Beltex asks court to strike down Texas horse meat law

Star-Telegram Staff Writer

Posted on Thu, Sep. 26, 2002

The Beltex Corp., operator of the nation's largest horse slaughtering facility, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, asking that a Texas state law banning the sale and export of horse meat be declared unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney John Linebarger, also requests an injunction against the Tarrant County district attorney and the U.S. Department of Agriculture from enforcing Chapter 149 of the Texas Agricultural Code. The code provision bans the exportation from any port in Texas of horse meat intended for human consumption.

The suit says that because Chapter 149 prohibits otherwise legal foreign commerce, "it contravenes the foreign commerce clause provision," of the U.S. Constitution.

"No legitimate state can justify the ban," the lawsuit states.

The Tarrant County district attorney's office did not respond to late-afternoon telephone inquiries.

Animal rights activists have for years complained about the activities at the Beltex plant on Fort Worth's north side, which employs about 100 workers and have used Chapter 149 as a legal point. A second, related plant in Kaufman County east of Dallas, also slaughters horses and is a co-plaintiff in the case.

Proponents of slaughter argue that it is done humanely. A pneumatic device shoots a stream of air into the animal's brain, rendering it unconscious, before the throat is cut. Proponents also argue that humane slaughter is the best option for horse owners who can't afford to have a horse euthanized and then have its carcass hauled away or cremated.

The carcasses are processed into steaks and other cuts for Europeans and Asians. In addition, some meat is sold to U.S. zoos, including Fort Worth's and the National Zoo, as the staple diet for cheetahs and lions.

Dan Piller, (817) 390-7719