Posted on Wed, Apr. 23, 2003

Horse slaughter plant to stay open, ruling says

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that Beltex USA, one of the last two remaining horse-slaughter plants in the country, can operate until a case challenging its legality is decided at trial.

In the meantime, the case by Tarrant County District Attorney Tim Curry might be overtaken by a bill currently pending in Congress seeking to ban horse slaughter, or one before the Legislature aimed at protecting the industry.

The other plaintiff is Dallas Crown of Kaufman, which at one point was being similarly prosecuted by the Kaufman County district attorney's office under a 1949 law.

In his order granting a preliminary injunction to keep the Beltex plant running in north Fort Worth, U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means said he concluded, "at least at this juncture of the proceedings, that the plaintiffs have shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

The plants have argued that federal law and subsequent state laws had pre-empted the 1949 law banning horse slaughter.

Means said there is no need to issue an injunction for Dallas Crown, because Kaufman Country's newly elected district attorney, Ed Walton, indicated that he is not pursuing the case.

David Broiles, a Fort Worth attorney representing the Belgian-owned Beltex, called Means' action "significant" and Ann Diamond, a Tarrant County prosecutor, downplayed its importance.

The order gave no indication of a trial date, which has drawn national attention and highlighted the debate over horse slaughter. Although eating horse meat is illegal in the United States, choice cuts are exported to Europe and Japan.

Means noted in his ruling that horse parts are used by U.S. veterinary schools for study and by zoos to feed their animals.

"Although there are members of the public that find consumption of horse meat repulsive, the public interest is much better served by permitting the plaintiffs to continue the normal operations of all aspects of their business" until a decision is made on the validity of the 1949 law, Means added.

Barry Shlachter, (817) 390-7718

2003 Star Telegram and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.