Horse Slaughter Plant Litigation in Texas

[Portions of this commentary were written by Barry Shlachter, staff writer for the Fort Worth Star Telegram]

Jan 22, 2003

Texas has the only two remaining horse slaughter houses in the country:  Fort Worth’s BelTex Corporation and Dallas Crown. Two other U.S. plants have burned down since 1997. The first fire, in Redmond, Washington, was found to have been caused by arson and attributed to the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The cause of the second blaze, in March in Dekalb, Illinois, was undetermined.

The Humane Society of the United States and Texas animal rights organizations have recently rallied the troops to shut down these two slaughterhouses under a 53-year-old Texas law.

According to the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, Representative Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, asked for Texas Attorney General John Cornyn’s opinion on horse slaughter’s legality at the request of a friend, Robert “Skip” Trimble.  Trimble is a Dallas real estate lawyer, an animal rights activist on the board of directors for both Texas Humane Legislation Network and Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). The animal rights movement is opposed to using animals for any reason, including food and food products. ALDF is the national organization of lawyers searching for the perfect court case to gain legal rights for animals equal to humans. Trimble said he was asked to find ways to get horse slaughter banned and he found it was already illegal. 

The Texas law forbids the sale, possession, transport and export of horse meat for human consumption. Horse slaughter is an emotional issue but these plants  provide a much needed service for the horse industry and the horse owner. Many people do not realize all the products and by-products coming from processing horses other than the meat for sale to pet food companies, zoos, and
agricultural uses. One interesting use is the lining of the heart, called pericardium,
for “patching” holes, tears, etc. in human heart pericardium.  The horse slaughter companies have filed suit in federal court to permanently stop enforcement of the Texas Horse Meat Ban claiming that federal law overrules the enforcement of the Texas law. The suit says that because Chapter 149 prohibits otherwise legal foreign commerce, “It contravenes the foreign commerce clause provision of the U.S.Constitution.”

They moved the federal court for a temporary injunction to prohibit the Tarrant and Kaufman County District Attorneys from prosecuting them under Chapter 149 while the federal case is pending. State, local and federal agencies have accepted Beltex’s taxes and fees for more than two decades.  Trimble claims the slaughter and transport of horses is being done in an inhumane manner. Both plants undergo federal inspection and also rigorous periodic checks by European Union officials. Proponents of slaughter argue that it is done humanely and argue that humane slaughter is the best option for horse owners who can’t afford to have a horse euthanized and then have its carcass hauled away or cremated. 

Disposal of horse carcasses is an environmental concern. They cannot be placed in landfills or buried on private property in some areas. The carcasses are processed at the plants into steaks and other cuts for Europeans and Asians. Some meat is sold to U.S. zoos, including Fort Worth’s and the National Zoo, as the staple diet for cheetahs and lions. Slaughterhouse buyers purchase horses at livestock auctions and pay the lowest possible amounts. They seldom buy horses suitable for riding because of higher prices, which are not profitable.

The American Quarter Horse Association states: “Decisions about equine welfare must be based on existing realities, scientific facts and solid animal husbandry. Allowing emotional issues, cultural perspectives, or uninformed public opinion to jeopardize overall equine welfare would be a tragedy for horses in this country. The horse industry is concerned that without the existence of this legal market, some animals would be less than humanely managed until the end of their natural life.”

“Some horses are unsound and miserable – so laminitic they can’t stand comfortably, have broken bones, or suffer from other severe health problems. These horses deserve a quick, humane death. Other horses have behavioral problems that make them dangerous to themselves, other horses, and their handlers. They, too, should be given a humane end,” writes Kimberly Graetz in The Horse magazine. Graetz claims if the slaughter of horses for human consumption is banned, then horses will face greater welfare issues than death as a food animal.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) position paper on the Transportation and Processing of Horses states: “The AAEP recognizes that the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, and provides a humane alternative to allowing the horse to continue a life of discomfort and pain, and possibly inadequate care or abandonment.” AAEP’s president-elect, Dr. Thomas R. Lenz, said, “My personal  position is that a ban is not going to solve anything. It doesn’t resolve the problem of unwanted horses.”

Closure of the slaughter houses is opposed by AAEP and the American Quarter Horse Association (the largest organizations for horse veterinarians and horses in the world), the American Horse Council, and the American Paint Horse Association.

Temple Grandin, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on humane treatment of livestock, expressed fears that a ban on horse slaughter might lead to thousands of U.S. horses shipped across to Mexico where plants are not as humanely run. A ban might sound good to some officials, said Grandin, an assistant professor at Colorado State University at Fort Collins.  “But they have no understanding of the consequences. Some horses do get hurt on trucks, but the biggest problem is owner neglect – long before the horse gets to a slaughterhouse.”

Nutritionists of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association criticized attempts to close the last two horse meat plants, also warning that unwanted horses could end up at foreign slaughterhouses with less-than-humane conditions. The association represents 188 zoos, aquariums and wildlife parks. The nutritionists said they found no indication that California’s 1998 ban on horse slaughter reduced the number of unwanted horses, suggesting that many animals might simply have been shipped out of state or to Mexico. The Fort Worth Zoo spends $45,000 a year on horse-meat-based diets and switching to beef would cost $18,000 more, spokeswoman Lyndsay Nantz said. The meat is also sold to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

Now it is up to the United States District Judge to decide if he wants tohave an oral hearing and if so, when; or if he wishes to decide the matter based on the paperwork that has been filed.