HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section: Local & State

May 30, 2003, 12:09AM

Amendment's death to put future of 2 plants in court's

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau

AUSTIN -- The survival of the only two horse slaughterhouses in the state and nation hang on a court's decision after a senator has indicated that he will kill an amendment attached to his bill that would have kept the companies in business.

House Bill 1324 by Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, would have clarified current state law to allow two companies in North Texas that have produced horse meat for human consumption overseas to stay in business.

"I still believe it's the right thing to do," Brown said. "We have had a hard time the entire way changing people's minds because of misinformation. It's up to the Senate now."

The bill is now dead. However, there is an amendment tacked onto Senate Bill 1413, by Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, that would allow the human consumption of horse meat. The amendment was attached to the bill on the House floor by Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon.

But Deuell said he would pull the amendment off his agricultural bill in committee, which would effectively kill the legislation.

"I don't want to consume horse meat," Deuell said. "I just want my bill to go through."

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, tagged Brown's bill in a committee earlier this week to stall its debate on the Senate floor, delaying its consideration for 48 hours and making it too late to pass.

In February 2002, then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn ruled that it was illegal for the two companies, Dallas Crown Packaging of Kaufman and Beltex Corp. of Fort Worth, to continue production for human consumption.

The state sued, trying to shut down their production of meat for human consumption. The companies are currently operating under a temporary injunction until the case is settled.

Current Texas law makes it illegal to sell horse meat for human consumption, but horse slaughtering is legal.

Supporters of the bill say they need the companies because they provide a humane manner of disposing of unwanted horses. Opponents and animal rights groups say the bill would open the door to human consumption of horse meat.

Dr. Steve Hicks, an equine practitioner in Anderson County, said that while it is an emotional issue, they are concerned about the welfare of the horses.

"While we do not advocate slaughter for horses, we do advocate well-being, horses being taken care of and adequate care throughout their lives," Hicks said.

"The horse processing plants should be made available to the horse industry and the horse owners as an option for the problem of unwanted horses," Hicks said, adding that the companies also conduct research that benefits horses.

When the legislation is finally dead, Hicks said, it could cause the plants to close if the courts do not rule in their favor.

Cindy Duehning, a horse breeder in Cypress, said she wants the slaughterhouses closed.

"The horses we raise and breed are part of the family," Duehning said.

As a horse owner working to end the legislation, Duehning said she didn't want a bill to pass that would allow for horse slaughter because it encourages horse theft.

"The more slaughterhouses that are open, the more this will happen," Duehning said. "If someone stole them for slaughter, it would be horrendous."