The Highlander
Marble Falls, Texas
May 9, 2003

House bill promotes using horse meat for human consumption in Texas
by Lyn Odom-Cherenzia

House Bill 1324 is pending and should it pass would legalize slaughtering horses for human consumption in the state of Texas.  The author of the bill, State Representative Betty Brown, argues legalizing horse slaughter for human consumption would protect a thriving industry that provides economic benefits for Texas families.

There are approximately 150 people employed at the two Texas horse slaughtering plants.  The plants pay several million dollars a year in motor fuel, property taxes, unemployment benefits and many other state and federal taxes.

According to Pat Dickey, owner operator of Common Ground, a local horse rescue barn, the horrors horses endure during shipping is mentally terrifying and physically harmful.  She says opponents of horse slaughter for human consumption have several issues with HB 1324.

Opponents of horse slaughter will rally today at the state capital building in Austin and will hold a candlelight vigil Saturday night.  They have put their time, effort and money into making video tapes and flyers that show and explain the horrors of horse slaughter.  They've also spent thousands of their own dollars rescuing horses and out bidding killer buyers at auctions.  They argue the economic impact on the state of Texas expressed by supporters is nothing compared to the $40 million made overseas due to the sale of Texas horse meat to French, Belgian and Asian markets.  Horse meat is harvested in Texas, by foreign buyers, foreign processors and foreign consumers.

Slaughtering horses for human consumption has become an emotional and bitter war between pro-slaughter believers and their opponents.  In 1919, Congress enacted a Horse Meat Law requiring horse meat to be inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In 1948 a law was enacted to ensure the humane slaughter of horses, and in 1996 rules for commercial transport of horses were enacted regarding horses transported over state lines.

Currently, over 45,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Texas, thousands for human consumption.  Horses are slaughtered for other consumer needs such as fresh meat for zoos and harvesting bone meal for animal chows and reproductive organs for veterinary training.  Farrier training utilizes freeze dried hooves for anatomy training and the horse's heart sac can be used to patch the human heart.

Texas and California prohibit the sale of horse meat for human consumption.  Two foreign owned horse slaughter plants in Texas, Beltex in Tarrant County and Dallas Crown in Kaufman County, slaughter horses, process the meat and export it to foreign countries for human consumption.  It is also illegal to possess horse meat intended to be sold for human consumption in Texas.

France, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and Japan are the primary consumers of horse meat which sells for an average of 80 cents per pound on the hoof at auction, and once processed, sells for as much as $15 per pound.

Supporters also argue the slaughter is humane as regulated by the USDA and sanctioned by the American Veterinary Association.  Horses are slaughtered by the same means as cattle.

What is referred to as a live kill, is a penetrating captive bolt shot into the head of the animal rendering them brain dead.  They are then hoisted up by the back legs, their throat is slit open and the heart pumps the blood out of the body.  This method of draining the blood is required for any animal that is to be eaten by humans.

"Live kill is anything but," Dickey said.  "Horses are flight animals.  Restraining their heads for the bolt is virtually impossible.  At the rate they are slaughtering horses, over 1,000 a week, there is no way all of the kills are humane.  Many of the horses must be hit three or four times, and when they are down on their knees, they are hoisted up, still alive and conscious, and their throats are cut so they'll bleed out."

The American Veterinary Medical Association's Panel of Euthanasia reported that adequate restraint is important to ensure proper placement of the penetrating captive bolt.  The method works well on cattle because of their docile nature and shorter necks.  Fractious, frightened horses make it nearly impossible to restrain their heads long enough to properly place a blow to the head.

Supporters also argue slaughtering horses provides an affordable means for humans to dispose of unwanted animals.  Auction houses draw seven to 10 percent off of each sale and the rest of the money goes to the seller.

Some of the regulations House Bill 1324 would enact are: require livestock auctions to post signs disclosing horses might be bought for slaughter; protect horses from being shipped to unregulated slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada, thereby suppressing horse theft; provide an alternative to inhumane endings of unwanted horses; continue to produce valuable products for veterinary training and human research.

Bill 1324 is supported by Livestock Marketing Association of Texas, The Texas and Southwest Cattle Association, American Paint Horse Association, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Texas Thoroughbred Association, Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, Independent Cattleman's Association.  Greater Houston horse Council, Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Poultry Association and the Texas Veterinary Association.

Anti-slaughter proponents across the board are horrified at the thought of a companion animal being slaughtered for human consumption and by the same practice as regular livestock.  The thousands of horses slaughtered are shipped in cattle trucks which are dangerous for horses to travel in.

Sometimes they are shipped hundreds of miles crammed into trailers and not separated by size or sex and not fed or watered.  Many of the mares are pregnant and commonly abort during transport and live foals nearly always die during shipping, if not from being trampled, then from not be able to reach their mothers' for nourishment.

Opponents argue there are many alternatives to horse slaughter.  Unwanted horses can become companion animals or be donated to therapeutic riding clubs.  Horses in poor health can be turned around into healthy, lively animals, that in turn, make wonderful family pets or ranching horses.  Mounted policed programs rescue horses each year as do dude ranches, 4-H clubs and riding lesson stables.

Another issue for slaughter opponents is the fact that slaughtering horses for human consumption is already illegal in the state of Texas.  Slaughter houses and supporters of the bill have found a loophole in which they argue shipping horses out of the state to be slaughtered and processed is not breaking the law.  The consumption is taking place outside of Texas state lines.

"The two plants here in Texas slaughtered over 42,000 horses last year and made over $40,000 million in annual gross sales oversees," Dickey said.  "The plants came to Texas because we are full of horses."

According to the House Research Organization (HRO) HB 1324 ninety percent of horses slaughtered in Texas are trucked in from out of state.  Profits from the sale of these horses at auction never made it back to Texas.  Professional "killer buyers" frequent auctions and livestock markets across the country shopping for horses to slaughter and they have quotas to meet, or they may lose their shipping contracts.

"That means families there buying horses for their kids may very well be out bid by a killer-buyer...just so he can meet his quota.  At no point in the distribution chain of the horse slaughter industry does Texas derive an economic gain," Dickey said.

It's not just about slaughtering horses for human consumption." Kevin Jones, who works at Representative Brown's office in Austin said., "We are very willing to work towards ensuring a quick kill.  If horses are going to be slaughtered, we are willing to work towards improving shipping.  There is legislation now that is working towards phasing out double deckers, (cattle trucks used for shipping horses)."