Town seeks an end to horse slaughtering
By Hugh Aynesworth
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
February 7, 2006
KAUFMAN, Texas -- A behind-the-scenes battle being waged in Washington might seem more noticeable here in this small, rural community than in a city preoccupied by political polarization and scandal.
Being argued in Washington is the effect of a small paragraph intended to stop the slaughter of horses for food that was inserted into an amendment to last year's U.S. Department of Agriculture budget.
That paragraph simply stated that the USDA would no longer pay for its specialists to inspect the horses. Since law has always required such inspections, it seemed to put an end to a growing controversy.
Passed by the House (249-159) and the Senate (68-29), the amendment was considered by its sponsors as an absolute end of U.S. horse slaughter for human consumption.
But a concerted campaign by Belgian-owned slaughterhouses soon uncovered a loophole in the congressional edict.
Now, nearing the end of a six-month delay, the USDA has announced that the new order (no USDA-paid inspections) actually did not halt horse slaughter and that private companies could simply pick up the tab for inspection costs.
On Jan. 17, a group of 40 senators and representatives sent a blistering letter to Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns, accusing the USDA of "direct defiance of congressional intent."
The signers asked that the USDA delay its planned new operating system, and that the agency explain its "course of directly violating congressional intent."
Meanwhile, here in tiny Kaufman, about 40 miles southeast of Dallas, the battle is being fought on more visceral, personal grounds.
Dallas Crown Inc., one of three equine slaughterhouses still operating in the U.S., slaughters several hundred horses every week, then packages the meat and ships it to France, Belgium, Japan and a few other countries where horse meat is considered a delicacy.
At present, Kaufman's Zoning Board of Adjustment is considering a shut down of Dallas Crown.
At public hearings last fall, citizens told of relentless odors, bones from slain horses carried around the neighborhood by dogs, blood and feces running through drainage areas and from trucks and the unsettling "noise" from horses as they were slaughtered throughout the night.
In 2002, when it was learned that the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, had ended up in a slaughterhouse in Japan, horse-slaughter foes in the U.S. became more fervent and the Belgian-owned operators of the U.S. plants began hiring lawyers and lobbyists.
"After Congress voted so strongly, we thought it would be over -- we could breathe again," said Robert Eldridge, who lives and works within a block of the Crown complex. "I wish some of them could visit here and see just how horrible it is."
Loophole or not, after urging from the lawyers representing the slaughterhouses, U.S. Department of Agriculture lawyers claim the companies can pay for such inspection themselves. The USDA said recently it was formulating a plan