Advocates Concerned by Shipment of Horse Meat Through U.S. Ports


Published: February 27, 2013

As concerns over horse meat infiltrating products labeled ground beef grows among American consumers, an advocacy group released shipping documents showing that horse meat does pass through at least one United States port on its way from slaughterhouses in Mexico to destinations in Europe.

The Equine Welfare Alliance unearthed bills of lading showing that since last August, more than 30 million pounds of fresh and frozen horse meat came into the Port of Houston on its way to distributors in Belgium, the Netherlands and Russia.

“The shipments come out of Tampico, the port closest to some Mexican slaughterhouse operations, and go through Houston, where they are broken up and sent out to various companies in Europe,” said John Holland, president of the alliance.

Shipments that pass through ports on their way to another country are typically under the jurisdiction of Customs and Border Protection and kept separate from other goods while waiting to be loaded onto ships.

The question is whether such transshipments, first reported by KPRC, the NBC affiliate in Houston, are legal under a Texas law banning the sale, transfer or shipment of horse meat for human consumption.

In 2008, Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general, determined that the Texas law, passed in 1949, applied even to transshipments of horse meat for human consumption. He ruled that the state law did not interfere with federal laws on interstate and foreign commerce.

A United States Supreme Court ruling later that year, however, suggested that federal law might trump state laws in such matters, said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. “I have some doubts about whether the Abbott decision would still be valid and whether a federal court would allow Texas to try and halt those shipments,” Mr. Pacelle said in an e-mail.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pacelle, Mr. Holland and others speculated that because ports are often porous places, it would be possible for horse meat from the shipments going through Houston to end up in the United States.

Ever since a recent scandal erupted in Europe in which horse meat was found in ground beef products, consumers in the United States have been looking more closely at the packages of the ground beef they buy and discovering the meat comes from Canada, Mexico and other places in Latin America where horses are slaughtered for human consumption.

Dee Mansfield, a consumer in Tennessee, said she had been “shocked” to find that a package of ground beef she bought at her local grocery store contained meat from Canada, Mexico and Uruguay. “I’m a horse lover,” Ms. Mansfield said, “and for me to think that I have the possibility of horse meat in my freezer literally makes me sick.”

No evidence of horse meat being mixed into ground beef has surfaced here, but several horse advocacy groups are testing samples of ground beef to determine whether it contains horse meat. “We have investigations going all over because it’s very, very likely that the same situation going on in Europe is also going on here,” said Simone Netherlands, director of Respect4Horses, a horse welfare organization.

Canada is the only country that the Agriculture Department allows to export any horse meat to the United States. Some zoos feed horse meat to lions and other large carnivores, said Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.