PHOENIX, Ariz. – A New Mexico company is set to be the first in the U.S. to slaughter horses for human consumption since 2007 after federal authorities agreed to issue a permit required for its operation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is close to approving two additional horse-slaughter plants, said it was required by law to issue the permit to Valley Meat Co. in Roswell once the company had met the requirements. The last U.S. horse-meat plant closed six years ago after Congress banned funding for inspections for such facilities. That ban lapsed in 2011 and measures to renew it are before lawmakers.

“The administration has requested Congress to reinstate the ban on horse slaughter,” USDA press secretary Courtney Rowe said Friday in an email. “Until Congress acts, the department must continue to comply with current law.”

Valley Meat, which previously processed cattle at its facility near downtown Roswell, was one of several applicants asking the USDA to provide inspectors.

The USDA told Valley Meat it will be at least three weeks before it can provide inspectors, A. Blair Dunn, an attorney representing the company, said in an interview. Valley Meat sued the agency last year for delays in granting inspections.

Horse slaughter has been an emotional issue in the U.S., where eating of horse meat is rare and surveys show most Americans oppose the practice.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said it is “dismayed” by the USDA decision. “Horse slaughter is inherently cruel,” the organization said.

Still, many farmers and ranchers say humane slaughter is necessary to dispose of unwanted animals.