The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Shuts Down Horse Slaughter in Texas

It was a federal appellate court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, that shut down the two horse slaughterhouses located in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a petition to hear an appeal.

The Fifth Circuit ruled a 1949 Texas law, Texas Agriculture Code §§ 149.001-.007, is enforceable and can be used to shut down two horse slaughterhouses operating in that state.

In a tribute to these majestic animals, the court noted that "the horse on the Texas trail is a cinematic icon" and "not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse."

At the beginning of this year there were three horse slaughterhouses in the United States. Two of those, operated by Beltex Corporation and Dallas Crown, Inc., were in Texas. Beltex owns a controlling interest in a third slaughterhouse, Empacadora de Carnes de Fresnillo, that operates in Mexico. The Mexican slaughterhouse sells and transfers its horsemeat to Beltex’ Texas operation, which then sells it abroad.

A third U.S. horse slaughter house operated by Cavel International, Inc. was in Illinois.

Since the mid-1970s these companies slaughtered horses and sold their meat for human consumption. The U.S. horse slaughter industry was a $60-million a year business. In its opinion the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted, "[A] substantial majority of the horsemeat is sold and shipped abroad for human consumption. None of the meat is sold domestically for human consumption." Some of the meat is sold to U.S. zoos or used in fertilizer.

In 2002 the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion that the 1949 Texas law "prohibits the processing, sale or transfer of horsemeat for human consumption." The Attorney General concluded the law was applicable to the slaughterhouses in Texas.

The horse slaughterhouse operators then filed a lawsuit in a Texas federal district court, requesting an injunction to stop enforcement of the law. The federal district court agreed and issued an injunction preventing the Texas authorities from enforcing the state law.

The horse slaughterhouses continued to operate while the state of Texas appealed the case. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports in 2006 alone 100,800 American horses were slaughtered in the three slaughter houses in the United States. 

USDA statistics reveal more than 92% of horses slaughtered in the U.S. are in good shape, not old and sick as opponents claim. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are strongly against the slaughter of American horses for human consumption overseas.

On Friday, January 17, 2007, the appeals court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, reversed the lower federal court.

Texas can now enforce its law that bans any person from "sell[ing], offer[ing] for sale, or exhibit[ing] for sale horsemeat as food for human consumption" or "possess[ing] horsemeat with the intent to sell the horsemeat as food for human consumption." Tx. Agric. Code §149.002. It is also an offense to transfer horsemeat to a person one knows or should know intends to do those prohibited activities. Id. at §149.003.

This opinion has effectively stopped horse slaughter for human consumption in Texas. This opinion by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has also helped mobilize efforts to pass a federal prohibition on horse slaughter now pending.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in essence, rejected the argument by the slaughterhouses that the state anti-horse slaughter law had been repealed by another law, the Texas Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, Tx. Health & Safety Code §a433.033. The Court found the latter statute never legalized sale or slaughtering of horses for human consumption. Instead, "it simply regulate[s] the sale and transport of horse products." Also, the Texas anti-horse slaughter law was codified later.

The Court further rejected the horse slaughterhouses’ argument that a federal law, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. § 601, et seq., preempts the Texas anti-horse slaughter law. The Court was adamant, "We can find no indication that Congress intended to prevent states from regulating the types of meat that can be sold for human consumption." The Court found the FMIA had a limited reach and was not inconsistent with the state law.

In fact, other states have banned the sale or transfer of horses for human consumption. See California Penal Code § 598c ("unlawful for any person to possess, to import into or export from the state, or to sell, buy, give away, hold, or accept any horse with the intent of killing, or having another kill, that horse, if that person knows or should have known that any part of that horse will be used for human consumption"); Mississippi Code § 75-33-3 ("The term ‘food unfit for human consumption’ shall be construed to include meat and meat-food products of horses and mules."); 63 Oklahoma Stat. §1-1136 ("It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, offer or exhibit for sale . . . any quantity of horsemeat for human consumption.")

(Since this opinion was issued, Illinois has banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption.)

The Fifth Circuit also found there was no violation of the dormant commerce clause. The Court believes this anti-horse slaughter statute is the best way to advance Texas’ interests in preserving horses, preventing people from eating horse meat, and stopping horse theft.

A complete copy of the Court’s opinion can be found in Animal Law Coalition’s Dowloads.

By Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition

One thought on “The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Shuts Down Horse Slaughter in Texas”

  1. hi i think if they just said free horses to ppl that have the money and tome and place they would take them i mean its skrewd hurtting them when they havnt done anythig at all i would take all of them my self if they just ask e-mail me

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