Texas Court Rules Against Slaughter

A federal appeals court in Houston has ruled that horse slaughter is illegal in Texas, home to two of the nation's three processing plants.

The decision, issued on Jan. 19th by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, overturns a lower federal district court's 2006 ruling on a 1949 Texas law that banned horse slaughter for the purpose of selling the meat for food.

The lower court had said the Texas law was invalid because it had already been repealed by another statute and pre-empted by federal law.

But in the 5th Circuit's decision, Judge Fortunato Benavides wrote that "the lone cowboy riding his horse on a Texas trail is a cinematic icon. Not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse."

The ruling involves two of the nation's three horse slaughtering plants: the Dallas Crown slaughter mill in Kaufman, and Beltex in Forth Worth. A third plant, run by Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill., is not affected by the ruling. All three facilities are foreign-owned.

Mark Calabria, a lawyer for Dallas Crown, could not be reached for comment Saturday. Telephone messages left at the offices of Dallas Crown and Beltex were not immediately returned.

About 88,000 horses, mules and other equines were slaughtered in 2005, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Horse meat is not marketed as table fare in the United States, but the slaughter plants process hundreds of horses each week and ship the meat overseas. Horse flesh is considered a delicacy in Europe, Japan, and other places.

While proponents such as the American Veterinary Medical Association say slaughter is a kind way to deal with old horses and a better alternative to abandonment, opponents including Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and country music star Willie Nelson have argued that the killing of equines is un-American--and that many young horses are killed as well.

A bill pending before Congress would shutter all three operations.

The Humane Society of the United States, which filed an amicus brief in the case, lauded the fact that those involved in the horse slaughter business in Texas can now face criminal prosecution.

"This is the most important court action ever on the issue of horse slaughter," Wayne Pacelle, the society's president and chief executive, said in a statement. "When this ruling is enforced, a single plant in Illinois will stand alone in conducting this grisly business."

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The Associated Press


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