Court: Horse slaughter is illegal

By Michael Gresham




Kaufman Mayor Paula Bacon is calling a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down Friday a victory for the community of Kaufman.

A federal appeals court ruled late Friday that slaughtering horses for meat is illegal in Texas, where the animals symbolize the Old West and where two of the nation's three processing plants are located.

“I think this will help Kaufman, and I think this going to be a real positive for our community,” Bacon said Tuesday. “That court decision was amazing and certainly it helps us here in Kaufman. It upheld a state law that has been in place since 1949 saying you cannot do what they are doing. The court upheld that law without any reservations. Basically, the court said that law is upheld and that Dallas Crown and Daltex in Fort Worth are in violation. With that said, I don't see anything except of the end of horseslaughter in our community coming.”

While Bacon celebrated the court decision this week, she was quick to point out that the battle was likely far from over.

“I assume that they will appeal this decision,” Bacon explained. “I don't think that they are motivated to close before they've exercised all their legal options.”

Kaufman attorney Mark Calabria, who is helping serve as counsel for Dallas Crown and its ownership, said they are currently weighing their legal options.

“We are looking at what our options are,” Calabria said. “There is the ongoing legal effort in federal court. The plan is to file a motion for re-hearing at the 5th Circuit and, if that is denied, then consider the options of filing with the Supreme Court and perhaps asking them to consider the situation. We're going to continue to exhaust our appeal process while at the same time reviwing what our business options are.”



According to Calabria, there were a number of significant legal issues involved with Friday's decision.

“We believe perhaps the Supreme Court may want to take a look at those issues,” Calabria said.

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

The lower court said the Texas law was invalid because it had been repealed by another statute and was preempted by federal law.

However, a panel of three judges on the 5th Circuit disagreed, saying the law still stood and was still enforceable.

The 5th Circuit decision also cited more than the law.

“The lone cowboy riding his horse on a Texas trail is a cinematic icon. Not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse,” wrote Judge Fortunato Benavides.

Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm, a spokesman for the plants and a coalition of about 200 organizations seeking to preserve the option for humane slaughter of unwanted horses, said Sunday that the companies are considering their options, including the possibility of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Those who want these plants to shut down should be careful what they wish for,” Stenholm said in a news release issued by Common Horse Sense. “If these plants shuts down tomorrow, the nation's patchwork of horse rescue facilities would be overwhelmed. They can barely manage to care for the approximately 6,000 horses already in the system.”

Common Horse Sense said in its statement that the ruling was a surprise because it felt the lower court had made a “well-reasoned decision based on the merits of the case.”

A bill pending before Congress would shutter all three operations.

The plants ship the meat overseas, since it is considered a delicacy in parts of Europe and Asia.

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


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.

The Humane Society of the United States, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, applauded the 5th Circuit decision.

“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.”