DMN Archive: Horse Slaughterhouses' Appeals Case Declined, State Ban Upheld

This story was originally published March 7, 2007.Two local horse slaughterhouses that sell meat for overseas dinner tables suffered another setback in court this week and will probably look next to Austin and Washington, D.C., for help.The full U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals declined Monday to hear arguments from the owners of the Beltex plant in Fort Worth and Dallas Crown plant in Kaufman. That effectively upheld a January ruling by a three-judge panel of that court saying that a state law banning horse slaughter for human consumption was still in effect. Charles Stenholm, an industry lobbyist and former congressman from West Texas, said he expected that this case would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, although that court hears only a small percentage of cases brought to it. He said the industry might have just as much luck getting legislation introduced in Austin to repeal the state ban and working to pass a federal law permitting such slaughterhouses in all states. "It's making it very, very tough on the businesses," he said about the court ruling. "The focus now is going to be more political." Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said this is the last gasp of a dying industry in the U.S. "They've hit the end of the road for this," he said. "I just can't see the Supreme Court taking this case, and this slams shut the legal issues and hopefully it slams shut the doors of the slaughterhouses." Mr. Pacelle said he doubts the industry will have success either in the Texas Legislature or Congress. Legislators in Austin have until Friday to file bills for the current session. North Texas is home to two of the three U.S. plants that slaughter horses for human consumption. The other is in Illinois. Most of the meat is shipped to France, Belgium and Japan, where horsemeat is a delicacy. Mr. Stenholm said that Dallas Crown and Beltex stopped slaughtering horses for human consumption after the previous ruling by the federal panel in January. Beltex still processes wild and exotic game but no horses. Dallas Crown continues to sell horsemeat to zoos as "carnivore diet products." Weekly reports filed with Kaufman County show that business has plummeted at Dallas Crown. Before the panel's ruling, the facility was slaughtering 300 to 400 horses weekly. Since then, that number has ranged from 28 to 151. The industry is also facing other major barriers. Dallas Crown is being challenged by the city of Kaufman, which claims that the plant violates the municipal zoning ordinance. The mayor of Kaufman has crusaded for years to shut down the plant. Mark Calabria, an attorney for Dallas Crown, said that case is scheduled for trial in July. Also, Mr. Stenholm said that a bill has been introduced in the Illinois Legislature to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. However, he said that an attempt a couple of years ago to pass a similar law failed. There is an investigation of alleged environmental violations at that Illinois plant too, Mr. Stenholm said. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said he isn't introducing a bill in Austin to protect the horse slaughterhouse industry, but he said that he and a majority of the state house would vote for it. "There is a market for those horses," he said, adding that they are slaughtered humanely. "It's not nearly as humane in Mexico as it is in Fort Worth," Mr. Geren said. There are similar slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada. Mr. Pacelle dismissed the defense of the horse slaughterhouse industry. He said that pending federal legislation he supports would ban the slaughter and also ban the export of horses for slaughter for human consumption. He also said that the horses suffered during their long truck rides to North Texas or Illinois, and according U.S. Department of Agriculture records, only 8 percent of the horses slaughtered at these plants are old or sick. "It's not just animal cruelty," Mr. Pacelle said. "Because of the special place of the horse in American culture and all that horses have done to build and expand this country, it seems like the height of ungratefulness." Mr. Stenholm said that horses will continue to be slaughtered whether or not this ban is upheld. "Someone has to start asking about what happens to the 100,000 horses unwanted by anyone," he said. "That's certainly a question no one wants to ask." Staff writer Jim Getz contributed to this report.  Continue reading...

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