ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) - What could be the nation's only horse slaughterhouse cleared a major hurdle Tuesday in Roswell.
Federal agriculture inspectors gave it their OK, and with that step now cleared the owners expect to be in business soon.
Protestors stayed away from the Valley Meat Company as U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors paid their visit. But they're still upset about what the plant could mean for Roswell.
Company owner Rick de los Santos says it's been tough and expensive to maintain his plant as it sat unused for the last year and a half.
A successful USDA inspection took Valley Meat a step closer to opening as the only horse slaughterhouse in the nation.
"No recommendations," de los Santos told KRQE news 13. "Usually they come in and recommend this or that. No recommendation. Everything was good."
But still surrounding his plant is a whirlwind of opposition.
"The western world wouldn't be civilized without horses," animal rights activist Cassie Gross said. "We owe horses a certain amount of respect for what they've done for us the past several hundred years."
Now that the plant has cleared its USDA inspection she's worried about what the slaughterhouse could mean for Roswell and the state of New Mexico.
"The tourism hit that we're going to get in this town," gross continued. "We're no longer going to be known as the UFO capital of the world. We're going to be known as the home of the horse slaughter plant where Roswell kills horses."
But de los Santos and his family have heard worse things. They've had to involve the FBI because of death threats.
"I hope he gets hit in the head and kicked and his children all die of the plague," one recorded caller said of the owner,
"We've been married 35 years," said Sarah de los Santos. "I have never heard such horrendous things about my husband, but this is what I know: people don't know him."
The de los Santos family expects the disagreements will continue as the plant moves closer to slaughtering horses.
"I think what we have to do is just deal with it," said Rick de los Santos. "Take each day at a time and just deal with whatever comes our way. That's how we've done it the last year-and-a-half."
The owners are now awaiting final approval from the USDA.
The de los Santos family says they've had problems with people stealing no-trespassing signs in the past. Now they will have round-the-clock security.
The de los Santos family says the plan is to export the horses to European countries, Mexico and others for consumption.
The owner didn't have an exact timeframe of when they may start but hopes to start hiring right away.
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