Texas slaughter bill hangs in balance


Austin, Texas-A proposed bill in Texas, in accord with federal law, would legalize the slaughter of horses and sale of horsemeat outside the United States.

Austin, Texas-A proposed bill in Texas, in accord with federal law, would legalize the slaughter of horses and sale of horsemeat outside the United States.

Current Texas law makes it illegal to sell, offer to sell or intend tosell horsemeat for human consumption outside the United States as well aswithin. Critics, however, claim the law is outdated, misconstrued, and contradictoryto federal law, which allows for the sale of horsemeat for consumption inEurope and Japan, where the product is a delicacy.

Rep. Betty Brown (R-Terrell), who proposed Texas H.B. 1324, called herstate's law "obscure" and "misleading." Steve Hicks,DVM, an equine practitioner in Palestine, Texas, who lobbied Brown to opposethe law, labeled it "ambiguous."

"The question for me," says Hicks, "is did (the wording)say it's against the law to sell horsemeat in Texas or to sell it period?

"It's not sold in Texas," he says. "It's sold overseas.It's not against the law to process horses and to sell meat for human consumptionand to transport that by U.S. law. That (federal) law supersedes any statelaw. You cannot ban transport in Texas for something that is legal to transporteverywhere else."

Brown argues she simply wants to clarify the law. Animal rights activists"think I'm trying to make it legal. But it is legal," she toldthe Austin American Statesman. "There's a lot of misinformation."

Wording matters

Animal rights activists, including Skip Trimble, a spokesman for theTexas Humane Legislation Network, want no changes to the existing statelaw, in an effort to bar future sales of processed horsemeat.

Trimble says he shudders at the "inhumane slaughter methods"as well as the subpar transport of the animals. He describes how the horsesare slaughtered like cattle by shooting a bolt between their eyes into thebrain, rendering them unconscious.

While Hicks doesn't deny the methods, the intent is humane, he argues.

"We all want them to be treated humanely and with dignity. We alsowant to make sure that unwanted horses, unusable and crippled horses havea place where they can be humanely euthanized and disposed of," hesays.

He supports horse rescue organizations but said there just aren't enoughof them. So there is a need for horses to be humanely put down, be it bya veterinarian or by a horse slaughter plant, he says.

"We can't legislate quality ownership. We have to provide a placefor humane disposal," Hicks says.

Case closed

If passed, the Texas bill would make moot a federal lawsuit filed bytwo horse slaughter plants in Brown's East Texas district. The Belgian-ownedplants, Beltex Corp. and Dallas Crown Packing Inc., wanted the state's currentlaw against selling horsemeat ruled unconstitutional, saying that only thefederal government can regulate international commerce.

The plants, which slaughter horses and ship the meat overseas, are theonly horse slaughterhouses in the country.

Hicks says that should the bill be defeated, the state's slaughter plantswould be forced to close, taking with them a byproduct vital to veterinarians.

Horse slaughter plants provide equine pericardia, which are used to augmentthe human heart pericardium to assist in closure after heart surgery. Universitiesalso collect horse reproductive tracts from the plants for use in veterinarystudy.

A spokesman from the Texas Veterinary Medical Association says the organizationsupports the bill.

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