Horse meat plants seek ruling

5 Oct 01 – Star Telegram, Fort Worth.

Horse meat plants seek ruling
By Barry Shlachter
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Two North Texas horse meat plants took legal action Friday to block area district attorneys from closing them down.

Fort Worth-based Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown of Kaufman requested that U.S. District Judge Terry Means issue a temporary injunction against criminal prosecution under a rarely used 1949 law that bans possession or transport of horse meat for human consumption.

Means ordered Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry and Kaufman County District Attorney Bill Conradt to answer the industry’s motion by next Friday.

On Sept. 26, the plants sued the district attorneys, asking that the Texas law be declared unconstitutional.

One of the plants’ attorneys, David Broiles of Fort Worth, argued in his brief Friday that a 1969 Texas meat inspection law effectively repealed the 1949 law, although the horse meat ban mistakenly was “left hanging like an infected appendix” in the state penal code.

Moreover, “this is an area that the federal government has completely pre-empted so the states can’t prohibit or regulate it,” Broiles said in a brief telephone interview.

The two Belgian-owned plants were put in jeopardy by an Aug. 7 opinion by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, who found that the 1949 statute outlawed the slaughter and export of horse meat for human consumption. The prohibition of domestic consumption is not being contested.

Last month, Conradt said he would try to have the Kaufman facility closed. After the suit was filed, Curry’s office said it would “vigorously defend itself.”

Neither district attorney was available to comment Friday evening.

Court papers disclosed that the 27-year-old Beltex, which employs 90 people, recorded $30 million in sales last year and processed more than 27,000 horses. Dallas Crown with 40 workers had revenues of $9 million and processed 13,000 horses.

A Mexican processor, Empacadora de Carnes of Fresnillo, has joined the plants’ legal action. The company, which ships horse meat to Texas and then on to Europe, fears that a Texas ban would hurt its operations, attorneys said.