The Thoroughbred Times
Slaughter will be exposed in Texas
September 20, 2004

Proximity of two slaughterhouses to the track hosting racing’s championship day
probably will get national attention

by Bill Heller

Horse racing’s dirty little secret is about to be revealed. On October 30, the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships will be held at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, and, either through demonstrations by animal activists or stories by enterprising journalists, everyone in the country will learn that Thoroughbred racing’s championship day is being conducted in the back yard of two foreign-owned slaughterhouses that inhumanely butcher American horses, including Thoroughbreds, for human consumption overseas.

These slaughterhouses operate despite a 1949 Texas state law prohibiting the selling, exhibition for sale, possession for sale, or transfer for sale of horse meat for human consumption. That makes this sordid picture even uglier.

The two slaughterhouses, Beltex Corp. in Fort Worth, some 20 miles west of Lone Star, and Dallas Crown Packaging in Kaufman, about 40 miles southeast of Lone Star, maintain they are not subject to Texas state law because the horse meat is sold overseas.

Texas Attorney General John Cronyn, who has since been elected to the United States Senate, ruled on August 7, 2002, that Texas state law does apply and that the owners of the companies should be prosecuted. The companies responded by filing a federal lawsuit and have remained open pending the resolution of that litigation.

Meanwhile, horses are slaughtered every business day.

The French-owned Beltex has been slaughtering horses since 1978. Belgium-owned Dallas Crown Packaging has been operating since 1994. In 2003, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 49,325 American horses were slaughtered at the two Texas plants for human consumption overseas.

Paula Bacon, mayor of Kaufman, is not particularly proud of her city’s industry. "It is gruesome, inhumane, and everything you think it would be," Bacon said in July. "It has an incredible smell, with thick, thick black flies [everywhere]. This morning in Texas, I got up at 6:30, and I opened the back door. I’m looking for fresh air, and then it hits me, the smell of urine and blood. I thought, ‘They’re killing today.’"

Bacon, 50, grew up in Kaufman, a city of 6,600. She remembers the stories she was told as a kid. "People would go around saying these horses are old and sick and have a defect in their legs that would cripple them later in life," she said. "They put a buzz out."

Bacon’s friend, Mary Nash, also grew up there. "The stories floating around town were that they all had diseases," Nash said. "That’s what they were telling people when they slaughtered horses, that it was okay to slaughter them."

Nash discovered the truth when she returned to Kaufman in 1987 and took a closer look. "I remembered the first time I got a good look at the horses," Nash said. "I was amazed. I thought these horses looked a lot better than any horse I ever rode when I was a kid in Kaufman. A lot better. I thought, ‘My God, why are these horses being killed?’ These horses are gorgeous. I was so disgusted. It made me so mad."

Ultimately, she responded by creating her own anti-slaughter Web site.

Horses are slaughtered for human consumption at only one other plant in the United States, Cavel International Corp. in DeKalb, Illinois, which reopened on June 9 amid great controversy.

Soon, there will be national controversy. How will people respond to the Breeders’ Cup being held in the neighborhood of two horse slaughterhouses in Texas? What message will millions of television viewers glean, that Thoroughbreds better be good enough to compete in the Breeders’ Cup so they do not wind up slaughtered down the road? Or that the Thoroughbred industry thinks slaughtering horses for human consumption is okay?

Thoroughbred racing received black eyes from the death of Racing Hall of Fame horse Exceller, who perished in a Swedish slaughterhouse in 1997, and the fate of ‘86 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and ‘87 Horse of the Year Ferdinand, who is believed to have been slaughtered in Japan in 2002.

How will racing’s championship day in Texas look in proximity to horse slaughter in America?

Exceller and Ferdinand were slaughtered overseas, a discovery that took diligent research after they had been slain. That delay somewhat deflated the news impact of their demise.

But less-accomplished Thoroughbreds are still being butchered daily right here in America, not many miles from the site of Thoroughbred racing’s crowning event. Soon everybody will know.


Bill Heller, winner of the 1997 Eclipse Award for outstanding magazine writing, is a New York correspondent for Thoroughbred Times.


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