LINCOLN, Neb. - An Iowa company is dropping plans to slaughter horses in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that temporarily banned the practice as animal welfare groups challenge it in court, a company executive said Tuesday.
Keaton Walker, the president of Responsible Transportation, told The Associated Press Tuesday that the company can't afford to wait for more deliberations in court.
A federal judge issued a restraining order earlier this month in a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The case has sparked an emotional national debate about how best to deal with the tens of thousands of wild, unwanted and abandoned horses across the country.
Walker's company had been given federal approval to slaughter horses at the company's Iowa plant starting Aug. 1. Walker said his Iowa plant will instead convert to a beef-only operation and seek new federal approval.
"We just can't sit with our heads down," Walker said. "We have to get back to work. Our main focus now is going to be beef."
Responsible Transportation was one of two companies that have secured federal permits for horse slaughter. Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, N.M., has been at the fore of the fight, pushing for more than a year for permission to convert its cattle plant into a horse slaughterhouse.
The Department of Agriculture in June gave the company the go-ahead to begin slaughtering horses. USDA officials said they were legally obligated to issue the permits, even though President Barack Obama's administration opposes horse slaughter and is seeking to reinstate a congressional ban that was lifted in 2011.
Blair Dunn, an attorney for Valley Meat Co., said the company was "still prepared to stay the course." But he said the United States Humane Society and other groups have filed such lawsuits because they know the companies "can't afford to sit around and wait."
Associated Press writer Jeri Clausing contributed from Albuquerque, N.M.