Florida Man Charged in Illegal Horsemeat Sale Case

Florida Man Charged in Illegal Horsemeat Sale Case

Jorge Ortega

Photo: Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

A Tampa man is facing felony charges after allegedly selling horsemeat for human consumption to undercover law enforcement personnel. The arrest follows an extensive investigation into the illegal horsemeat trade in Hillsborough County, according to Det. Larry McKinnon, public information officer for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

According a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department affidavit, on Feb. 19, Jorge Ortega allegedly sold a 40-pound bag of horse meat intended for human consumption to undercover law enforcement personnel in exchange for $160 in cash. Subsequent laboratory testing confirmed that the meat was derived from a horse, the document said.

McKinnon said that on Nov. 6, Sheriff's Deputies arrested Ortega charging him with felony sale of horsemeat for human consumption. Under Florida law, Ortega could face mandatory minimum penalties of $3,500 in fines and one year in prison, and maximum penalties of five years in prison and $5,000 in fines

Ortega was unavailable for comment.

Richard Couto, of the Florida-based Animal Recovery Mission, said the arrest reflects just one incident of illegal horsemeat sale for human consumption in Hillsborough County.

"There are a lot of illegal slaughter farms in Hillsborough County that need to be hit, closed, and (their) animals rescued," Couto said. "These are violent, violent places and nobody wants these properties as their neighbors."

McKinnon said that the arrest was the result of an exhaustive Sheriff's Department investigation into the alleged illegal horsemeat trade in Hillsborough County, but, that investigation did not reveal that horsemeat for human consumption slaughter or sales operations were epidemic there.

"We take these incidents seriously and are always willing to investigate and make arrests, but we did not find that illegal (horsemeat sales for human consumption) was as widespread as alleged," McKinnon said. "In some cases, horses were slaughtered for personal use or for sale to a nearby big cat rescue." 

Under a Florida state statute passed in 2010 it is illegal to transport, distribute, sell, or purchase horsemeat for human consumption. Even so, under Florida law, it is not illegal for an individual to slaughter his own horse to obtain horsemeat for his own or his family's consumption, McKinnon said. It is also not illegal to slaughter horses for meat to feed lions, tigers, and other exotic animals residing in rescues and zoos, he said.

Eliminating the slaughter of horses for meat for any purpose in Florida would require amending current state law, McKinnon said.

"We can only enforce the laws we have," McKinnon said. "If it's the will of the people to make all horsemeat consumption illegal, then people need to get their legislations to do that and we'll be happy to enforce those laws."

While his case is pending, Ortega remains free on $2,000 bond.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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