ALBUQURQUE, New Mexico (AP) -- An Iowa company is dropping plans to slaughter horses in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that temporarily banned the practice as part of a lawsuit filed by animal welfare groups, a company executive said Tuesday.
Responsible Transportation, which owns a slaughterhouse in Sigourney, Iowa, was among two companies that had secured federal permits for horse slaughter. But the Iowa company's president, Keaton Walker, told The Associated Press that his firm the company cannot afford to wait for more court deliberations and will turn its focus to cattle.
"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."
A federal judge issued a restraining order earlier this month in a lawsuit that 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. The suit was filed by the Humane Society of the United States and other groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The other company with a federal permit, Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, New Mexico, was "still prepared to stay the course," company attorney Blain Dunn said. Valley Meat 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.
Dunn said the Humane Society and other similar groups have filed such lawsuits because they know companies "can't afford to sit around and wait."
The Department of Agriculture in July gave the Iowa company the go-ahead to begin slaughtering horses on Aug. 1. USDA officials said they were legally obligated to issue the permits, even though President Barack Obama's administration opposed horse slaughter and was seeking to reinstate a congressional ban that was lifted in 2011.
Walker said the company decided to reapply for a federal permit, as a beef-only operation, the day after U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo issued the temporary restraining order. Walker said his company, with 18 employees in southeast Iowa, should be able to switch within a month.
The Humane Society praised the company's decision on Tuesday, issuing a statement that said, "horse meat is a product of cruelty that Americans don't want to buy, and which pollutes the air and water wherever it occurs. It has no place in Iowa or any other state."
Grant Schulte reported from Lincoln, Nebraska.