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Domestic horse slaughter fuels debate in New Mexico

| Friday, March 22, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Internet video that shows a meat company employee swearing at animal activists before shooting a horse in the head highlights the increasing emotional intensity of the national debate over whether a southeastern New Mexico plant should be allowed to resume domestic horse slaughter.

This week, animal rights groups uncovered the video posted by a former employee of Valley Meat Co., which has been fighting the U.S. Department of Agriculture for more than a year for approval to convert its former cattle slaughter operation into a horse slaughterhouse.

Valley Meat Co. owner Rick De Los Santos said the employee, who was let go this week, was reacting to harassment by activists who have targeted the plant since its plans were made public about a year ago. The harassment has worsened since the video, made a year ago, was uncovered this week, he said.

“We are getting lots of threats: that we better watch our back, watch who is around us, that they hope our kids and families get killed, ugly stuff,” De Los Santos said on Friday.

The video shows Tim Sappington of Dexter leading a seemingly healthy horse by a rope to a spot in dirt road. He strokes his nose and neck, says, “All you animal activists, (expletive) you,” then shoots it in the head.

Chaves County Sheriff Rob Coon said the department is bracing for things to get worse as the company nears a final inspection by federal regulators with the hope of opening horse slaughter operations next month.

The video, Coon said, “didn't help anything,” noting the issue is “very emotional.”

De Los Santos said he has hired a security firm to guard his company and its workers.

The New Mexico Livestock Board has begun an inquiry into the shooting as a possible case of animal abuse.

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