Tuesday, 17 August 2010 08:20


Written by  Kenneth C. Sandoe, Attorney-at-Law
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Disclaimer - This article is intended as general discussion and information on the topic covered, and is not to be construed as rendering legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should contact an attorney. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner without prior written permission of the author.

On January 17 lawmakers introduced the Bill in both the House and Senate. The Senate Bill is known as the “Virgie S. Arden American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act” and is Senate Bill 311. The House version is H.R. 503. Both Bills contain similar language and would outlaw the “shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possession, purchasing, selling, or donation of any horse or other equine to be slaughtered for human consumption.”

Last year the House passed the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act by a vote of 263 to 146. However, the Senate adjourned before it could vote on the Bill. Earlier in January of this year, H.R. 249, was introduced, which would ban slaughter of wild horses, and Kentucky Senator Tom Buford introduced a horse slaughter prevention bill for the State of Kentucky.

As a result of the introduction of these Bills, members of the House Committees on Agriculture and Energy and Commerce released a statement to Congress opposing the proposed Bills. The statement referred to a ban on slaughter as “bad for horse welfare, bad for animal agriculture, and bad for the U.S. economy.” The letter went on to state that “the United States is the only country in the world that has regulations that protect horses during transportation to processing plants. Once at the plants, the USDA, by law, inspects every horse and assures each animal is treated humanely. USDA inspectors are required to shut down the plants in the event of any violation of humane standards. The Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare organizations helped pass these laws.” Further, the letter referred to a recent study available at which “found that if the plants had been closed in 2000, the cumulative annual cost to taxpayers to care for these unwanted horses would have exceeded $500 million just five years later.”

As if the above wasn’t enough action on horse slaughter, on January 19, 2007, the Texas Circuit Court of Appeals (5th Circuit) released its decision in EMPACADORA De Carnes De Fresnillo, S.A. DE C. V.; Beltex Corporation; Dallas Crown, Inc., v. Tim Curry, District Attorney Tarrant County Texas, et al (2007 W.L. 122005, C.A. 5, TEX) which upheld a 1949 Texas law banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption. As you may be aware, Texas has two of the three horse slaughter plants currently in operation in the United States. If this decision stands, the horse slaughter industry will be virtually eliminated in the United States.

At the time this article was written, both Texas plants, Dallas Crown and Beltex Corp. remained open and were in operation. The owners of the plants have decided to seek a rehearing before the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and if unsuccessful will appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

The opinion of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals was based on a 1949 Texas law that prohibited slaughter of equines for human consumption. The law was created to prevent packing houses in Texas from mixing horse meat with beef products thereby misleading and mislabeling processed beef. The Federal District Court, the Court from which the appeal was taken to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, held that the 1949 law was inconsistent with later law and was thereby repealed. The District Court’s analysis was overruled by the Appeals Court and the stage is now set for the issue to be presented to the entire 5th Circuit for review and possibly to the United States Supreme Court.

The legal issues are complex and quite involved. The analysis involves possible conflict between the Texas Agriculture Code, the Texas Meat and Poultry Inspection Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Federal Preemption Doctrine, and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution in regard to regulating trade and commerce among states. The legal issues are of great interest to me as a lawyer, but more importantly, the practical effect of such a decision is the ultimate end with which we will have to live.

The time has come to go to the core of this issue and leave emotion behind. We know that current horse rescue facilities care for 6,000 horses and have little or no room for more. We also know that 90,000 horses are slaughtered each year for human consumption. The proposed Horse Slaughter Prevention Act fails to address what will happen to the 90,000 horses currently slaughtered. The proposed law fails to address funding and who will pay for the care and placement of these horses. Certainly the current horse rescue facilities cannot handle 90,000 more horses every year. No provision is made to establish more rescue facilities and even if there was, who would pay the expense?

The proponents of the law argue that this is far more humane than slaughter. However, the potential effect may be just the opposite. Instead of helping the 90,000 horses in question, neglect will increase. Many horses will be left on their own to starve or die of disease because the owners may not have the financial resources to treat or dispose of the animal. Charles Stenholm, a spokesperson for the plants, stated “those who want these plants to shut down should be careful what they wish for É if these plants shut down tomorrow, the nation’s patchwork of horse rescue facilities will be overwhelmed. They can barely manage to care for the approximately 6,000 horses already in the system. Adding an additional 90,000 horses every year will not result in humane treatment for horses and we suspect the people fundraising on this issue know that. They have no solution.”

The current system works. Unwanted horses or those no longer able to be used can be humanely slaughtered and relieve the owner of financial responsibility while at the same time end the suffering of the animal. The American Veterinary Medicine Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (the two largest veterinary organizations) have looked into the slaughter process and agree with over 200 other organizations that the practices used in the United States for horse slaughter are humane and is far better than the alternative of neglected or abandoned horses. There is no need to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Further, the current system of horse processing is federally supervised and is the only humane option available to some horse owners to dispose of unwanted or unusable horses.

The decision to exercise this option should be the right of the owner, not the government.

A long life and natural death for every horse may be the noble goal for the proponents; however, this goal is simply not realistic.

Even mother nature does not exempt her creatures from an untimely demise.

Former Dickinson Law School Dean, Burton Laub wrote, “there is no promise of perfect justice, even mother nature doesn’t dispense it É what is justice to the sparrow hawk is certainly not justice to the sparrow.”

Enough legal talk Ð it’s time to hitch horses! Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, PA, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six-horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the East.

Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the east.

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