April 23, 2003, 10:27PM
House OKs sales of horse meat outside U.S.

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN -- Horses from Texas could end up on the dinner tables of foreign countries under a bill given preliminary approval by the House on Wednesday.

House Bill 1324 by Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, would allow the nation's only two horse slaughterhouses -- both in North Texas -- to sell horse meat for human consumption outside of the United States.

"It's an ugly subject that no one wants to think about," Brown said. "In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to do this. The horses would all live out their natural lives in a green pasture."

The bill would clarify current state law to allow the two foreign-owned plants to continue processing and shipping horse meat for human consumption in foreign countries.

The meat is considered a delicacy in such nations as Belgium, France, Italy and Japan.

Last year, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn ruled that it was illegal for Dallas Crown Packaging of Kaufman and Beltex Corp. of Fort Worth to continue producing horse meat for human consumption.

Beltex is owned by a French company, and Dallas Crown is owned by a Belgian firm.

The companies went to federal court to overturn Cornyn's ruling and also sought help from the Legislature.

Although the sale of horse meat as food for people is illegal in Texas, it is not illegal to slaughter horses.

Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, a horse breeder, said she supports the legislation because it would prevent horse owners from taking their animals out of the state to less-humane slaughterhouses.

"Humane treatment of animals is something I am very concerned about," Riddle said.

Opponents say the bill could allow horse slaughter in Texas to produce food for humans, and not just for foreign sales.

Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, tried to amend the bill by allowing the slaughter of physically unfit horses only. The amendment was tabled because it would have changed the intent of the bill, since those horses would not be suitable for food.

The bill also includes a provision that would require owners of livestock markets to post prominent signs giving notice that horses sold there could be slaughtered.

The bill is up for final passage by the House today and, if adopted by the Senate, would become effective Sept. 1.