Why Banning Horse Slaughter is Such a Terrible Idea

Author’s Note: This post is purely editorial in nature. The views expressed in this post are 100% mine. I have not canvassed my clients or the other members of my firm to get their take on horse slaughter, nor do I intend to do so. My views are not necessarily the views of my clients, my firm, or the other lawyers who practice at my firm.

First off, I cannot express in words how much I detest the word “ban.” I dislike it so much that I wish Merriam-Webster would take it out of the dictionary. Why? Because “it ought to be banned!” has become the battle cry of the self-righteous busybodies, some of whom are multi-million dollar concerns, and others who are just individuals who have far too much spare time on their hands. The do-gooders who relish the phrase “it ought to be banned!” are known to meddle in other people’s business, usually with the goal of using our government to force their will upon us, their fellow citizens. 

Photo:  A horsemeat sandwich, as served by street vendors in Venice, Italy

Let’s for a moment put the word “ban” in perspective. Killing people is not “banned” in the United States. Our citizens may kill another person in self-defense. Police officers and members of our Armed Forces may kill people, and do so regularly. Similarly, the use and distribution of powerful, addictive narcotics is not “banned” in this country. Doctors administer and prescribe opioids and other powerful drugs daily. Yet some people think there out to be an outright “ban” on horse slaughter in this country. 

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That's about where we’re headed if our federal government kowtows to the radical powerful anti-horse-slaughter lobby, and enacts an outright prohibition of horse slaughter.

Unintended Consequences of the Closure of the U.S. Plants

To generally summarize this June 2011 Government Accountability Office report, the horse market tanked after the closure of the U.S. horse slaughter plants in 2007. The GAO gave multiple reasons for the decline—including the drought and the economy, but the cessation of domestic slaughter was clearly indicated as a factor in the report. Veterinarians surveyed by the GAO reported that horse welfare declined across the board, with a 50% or greater increase in abandonment and neglect cases in some states. The nationwide capacity of horse rescue facilities is about 6,000 head of horses, and the vast majority of these are already full. Legislative prohibitions on using federal funds for inspecting horses prior to slaughter impede USDA’s and APHIS’s ability to oversee the transport and welfare of U.S. horses intended for slaughter. The number of horses shipped to Mexico and Canada for slaughter increased by 660% and 148%, respectively, after the closure of the slaughter plants. This resulted in total distance travelled by slaughter horses to increase by approximately 200 miles. Once a horse crosses the border into Canada or Mexico, APHIS no longer has authority to oversee their welfare, and our laws related to the humane slaughter of animals no longer apply.

While some anti-slaughter advocates place blame on market forces and irresponsible owners, PETA generally agrees with the GAO’s conclusion that horse suffering has increased due to the closure of the slaughter plants. But what is PETA’s answer? “Let’s ban horse slaughter…and let’s also ban the export of horses to other countries for slaughter!” There is certainly a lot of banning going on with this seemingly untenable position. 

Flawed Logic

I never understood why is it suddenly inhumane to slaughter a horse, but not other mammalian livestock such as a pig, cow, or sheep.  One reason opponents give is that horses are "pampered", and are used to being treated as pets.  Even if this were true of all horses, what of the FFA and 4-H show animals that go to slaughter each year?  There is no outcry to ban the slaughter of these animals.  Further, it is also puzzling to me that the majority of people who believe horse slaughter is barbaric support abortion in humans.

Fact: there is an unwanted horse problem in this country. There are simply some horses who are not adoptable—perhaps because they are dangerous, or perhaps because the cost to “repurpose” them and care for them throughout their life far outweighs their potential usefulness to humans. Some anti-horse-slaughter advocates outright deny the unwanted horse problem. They argue that virtually every horse is adoptable, and that the ones who are not adoptable should be euthanized by a veterinarian and disposed of properly.  Some statistics on the high cost of euthanasia and proper disposal have been published here.  In general, anti-slaughter advocates are short on pragmatic or realistic solutions to the unwanted horse problem.

If virtually all horses were adoptable, there would be no need for horse slaughter. The U.S. slaughtered approximately 105,000 horses in 2006, the last full year the Texas and Illinois plants were operational. See GAO report at 8. This is a manageable number, especially when you look at the amount of money that has been poured into the “horse slaughter ban” efforts. The Humane Society of the United States, which is just one of the many animal rights advocacy groups in this country, had approximately $150 million in revenue for 2010 alone. These numbers, on their face, seem to indicate that the HSUS could have, possibly single-handedly, rehomed those horses that were adoptable, and caused those that were not adoptable to be euthanized and properly disposed of. Meanwhile, the HSUS has paid lawyers and lobbyists untold amounts to promote its political agendas such as a federal ban on horse slaughter and horse export for slaughter.  

According to this HSUS publication, horse slaughter was costly to taxpayers. But even if the slaughter companies paid all costs associated with horse slaughter through a fee-for-service program or the like, HSUS says it should still be banned. But the HSUS has not published estimated figures on what it would cost our taxpayers to enforce their proposed ban on the export of horses for slaughter. It is common knowledge that we cannot even control the movement of illegal immigrants or illegal drugs across our borders, and we’re spending millions of taxpayer dollars on those efforts. Also, the HSUS is silent on the amount of domestic revenue and jobs that were lost when the slaughterhouses shut their doors.

Obstacles to Re-Implementation of Horse Slaughter in the U.S.

If I were an investor looking to put up the capital to build a new horse slaughterhouse in this country, I would first determine solutions to the serious economic and political hurdles currently facing this industry in the United States. Namely,

·       New European Union regulations that will become effective on July 31, 2013 will require all non-EU countries to provide lifetime medication records for all horses entering the EU food chain. Furthermore, horses that have been given certain commonly-used drugs, such as phenylbutazone, must be excluded from the EU food chain.

·       The threat of domestic terrorism on the slaughter facilities by animal rights activists. If you do not believe this problem exists, a federal law was enacted to address the issue.

·       The possibility of future legislative changes that may directly or indirectly hinder operations. The federal government has already pulled the rug out from under the slaughterhouses once. There’s no telling whether they’ll do it again.

·       The ever-presence of the shrill, combative, mostly female anti-slaughter advocates who will stop at nothing to turn public opinion against the slaughterhouses, no matter where they decide to set up shop. If you do not believe these women exist, I urge you to do a Google search for “horse slaughter”, or check out some of the comments to this previous post.  While the presence of these "hecklers" is really nothing more than an annoyance, the unwitting or naive in local communities sometimes give in to them---if for no other reason than to shut them up.

Conclusion

If the European Union no longer wants our horsemeat, and the Asian or South American demand is not enough to sustain the industry, the free market economy will bring an end to horse slaughter. The anti-slaughter advocates agree—indeed, this is the only real economic issue they have latched onto. But if this is something that will go away on its own, why do we need a ban? Your guess is as good as mine. I would think that given the amount of money and time the anti-slaughter camp has spent to bring about anti-slaughter legislation, they can’t stop now. It would be unthinkable to them that they threw away millions trying to force their will upon us, instead of using their time and money to save the adoptable horses that either died of neglect or were inhumanely butchered in Mexico as a result of their efforts.

It is a myth that horse suffering has decreased now that slaughter is no longer an option. I applaud organizations such as the self-sustaining equine sanctuaries and rescues, veterinary associations, and the Unwanted Horse Coalition for doing what they can to reduce the amount of unwanted horses. If we want to improve horse welfare, we should be spending our time and money helping these organizations help horses—not on political agendas. 

And if we must regulate the industry, let’s keep regulating horse transportation and institute methods of humane slaughter such as those proposed by Temple Grandin for the cattle industry. But we can only control how horses are treated as long as we allow them to be slaughtered within our borders.

Jane Smiley, contributor to the New York Times Horse Racing Blog, may have put it best when she said:  

We must recognize that there is a market for horse meat (not only for human consumption, but also for zoo and circus-animal consumption) and that in a starving world, a source of protein should not go to waste for sentimental reasons. It is sentimentality that has resulted in profounder cruelty to our horses - because we don’t accept that they are animals and have a utilitarian purpose, we hide from what happens to them, and so what happens to them happens in secret.

Related Posts

Current Status of Federal Laws Affecting Horse Slaughter

Legal Background of Horse Slaughter in Texas

ABA Seeking Nominations for Top 100 Blawgs of 2012

Good morning, dear Equine Law Blog readers. The ABA Journal is compiling its annual list of the 100 best law blogs (i.e. “blawgs”), and is seeking nominations for 2012.  I was so pleased that the Equine Law Blog was included on the ABA’s 2011 list.  Thanks so much to everyone who nominated and/or voted for this blog last year!

If you find this blog interesting or informative, please nominate it for the 2012 ABA Blawg 100 list.  

You can access the on-line ABA Journal nomination form to nominate the Equine Law Blog here

When you fill out the nomination form, the ABA will ask for the URL for this blog, which is http://equinelaw.alisonrowe.com. The nomination form will also ask you to state in 500 words or less why you think the Equine Law Blog should be included among the ABA’s 100 Top Blawgs of 2012.  The entire nomination process should take 5 minutes or less.

The deadline for nominations is September 7, 2012.

Thanks for reading the Equine Law Blog! 

Current Status of Federal Laws Affecting Horse Slaughter

I have been working on a post outlining my personal stance on whether horse slaughter should be resumed in the United States. Last week, we discussed the legal history of horse slaughter in Texas. To provide a more complete backdrop for my upcoming post, I am providing for you this week a summary of federal laws addressing horse slaughter.  For as the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. 

Starting in Fiscal Year 2006, Congress included language in annual appropriations bills that prohibited the use of federal funds for inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for horses in transit to slaughter and at slaughter facilities. At that time, the three remaining U.S. slaughterhouses included Dallas Crown, Inc. in Kaufman, Texas, Beltex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, and Cavel International, Inc. in DeKalb, Illinois. These facilities stayed open by paying for these inspections under a voluntary fee-for-service program implemented by USDA in February 2006.

Photo:  A plate of horse sashimi, as served at restaurants in Japan.

In 2007, Dallas Crown and Beltex shut down their operations in Texas due to a decision of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered in January of that year. See this post for details.

Utilizing the USDA fee-for-service program, Cavel continued its operations in Illinois for a few more months in 2007 until the following things happened: 1) in March 2007, a federal district court determined that it is illegal for slaughterhouses to pay the USDA for horsemeat inspections; 2) in September 2007, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Illinois law prohibiting slaughter of horses for human consumption. This essentially shut down the industry in the US, because meat cannot be sold for human consumption without being inspected.

From Fiscal Year 2008 to Fiscal Year 2011, Congress included a prohibition on the use of federal funds for implementation of the fee-for-service program in each annual Agricultural Appropriations Bill. 

In 2011, the Government Accountability Office issued this report detailing some of the negative consequences caused by the closure of the slaughter plants. Shortly thereafter, Congress removed its prohibition on the use of federal funds to inspect horses at slaughter for Fiscal Year 2012. 

Since last year, new horse slaughterhouses have been proposed in New Mexico, Missouri and Oregon, and laws that would permit them to be built more easily have been proposed in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

In June 2012, an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2013 Agricultural Appropriations Bill passed the Appropriations Committee. This amendment seeks to expressly eliminate federal funding for USDA inspections of horse slaughter facilities for Fiscal Year 2013. The bill as amended must now be approved by the full House and then go to the Senate.

Although the domestic slaughter of horses for human food has stopped for the time being, USDA’s Slaughter Horse Transport Program continues to operate. Established in 2001, the program is intended to ensure that horses travelling to slaughter are fit to travel and handled humanely en route. Among other things, the program collects and reviews shipping documents and inspects rigs used to transport these horses. Prior to 2012, because of the prohibition on using federal funds for inspecting horses transported to slaughter, the transport program was not able to inspect the condition of horses designated for slaughter during their transport. I have not yet been able to locate any data suggesting that this has changed due to the absence of the funding prohibition in the 2012 Appropriations Bill.  

Legal Background of Horse Slaughter in Texas

Did you know that horse slaughter for human consumption has technically been illegal in the State of Texas from 1949 to the present? The laws surrounding horse slaughter in the United States are complicated, and they vary from state to state. Below is an overview of the legal history of horse slaughter in Texas, from 1949 to present.

Photo:  Silhouette of a horse before a North Texas sunset

1949: 51st Texas Legislature passes a law that makes it a criminal offense for a person to 1) sell horsemeat as food for human consumption; 2) possess horsemeat intending to sell it as food for human consumption; and 3) transfer horsemeat to a person who intends to sell it as food for human consumption or who knows or reasonably should know that the person receiving the horsemeat intends to sell it as food for human consumption. See Article 719e of Vernon’s Texas Penal Code (now repealed). The 51st Legislature placed jurisdiction to investigate within the Board of Health’s powers as a matter related to the public health. However, Article 719e did not expressly authorize any particular entity to enforce the law.

1950: A news article quotes the “state health officer,” Dr. George W. Cox, as stating that the Department of Health was prosecuting “every violator we could find.” Health Officer Tells How to Stop Horse Meat Sales, Dallas Morning News, Mar. 17, 1950.

1952: Another news article quotes the same Dr. Cox, “state health officer”, as saying that sausage containing horsemeat “can’t be sold in Texas”. Neigh? Nay! Texans Can’t Horse Around with Sausage, Dallas Morning News, May 23, 1952.

1973The substance of Article 719e was transferred to Texas Revised Civil Statutes and again placed with statutes related to public health. It was not substantively changed.

Mid 1970’s: Horse slaughter companies Beltex (Fort Worth, Texas) and Dallas Crown (Kaufman, Texas) began marketing and processing horse-meat intended for human consumption in foreign countries. 

1991The statute prohibiting horse slaughter was codified as Chapter 149 of the Texas Agriculture Code (where it resides today). It was not substantively changed. Nothing in the current statute expressly authorizes any entity or agency to enforce the law.

2002: Texas State Representative Tony Goolsby requested that the Texas Attorney General clarify the enforceability of Chapter 149, which on its face prohibits the processing, sale or transfer of horsemeat for human consumption. AG John Cornyn issued this opinion, stating that Chapter 149 is applicable to the slaughterhouses in Texas and was not preempted by federal law. According to the opinion, Texas Department of Agriculture has no authority to investigate or assist in prosecuting violations of Chapter 149, but local prosecutors may investigate and prosecute alleged violations of Chapter 149.

2007: When the slaughterhouses learned of the 2002 AG opinion, and that Beltex and Dallas Crown were facing imminent prosecution, they brought a case in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, seeking a declaration of legal rights and responsibilities and to enjoin any potential prosecution of them under Chapter 149. The slaughterhouses generally asserted that Chapter 149 had been implicitly repealed and/or it was preempted by federal law. The trial court permanently enjoined the state from prosecuting the slaughterhouses under Chapter 149. On appeal, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s judgment and injunction in favor of the slaughterhouses, finding that Chapter 149 had not been repealed, was not preempted by federal law, and that it did apply to the slaughterhouses. See Empacadora de Carnes de Fresnillo, S.A. de C.V. v. Curry, 476 F.3d 326 (5th Cir. 2007). As a result of this decision, Beltex and Dallas Crown shut down their operations in Texas.

2008: Attorney General Greg Abbott issued this opinion, stating that it is illegal under Chapter 149 for a foreign corporation to transport horsemeat for human consumption in-bond through Texas for immediate export to foreign destinations. Abbott made clear that neither federal law nor the U.S. Constitution invalidated this application of Chapter 149.

July 2012:  As discussed in this prior post, the Texas Senate Committee on Agricultural and Rural Affairs met to hear testimony on the economic impact of the closure of Texas's slaughterhouses.  According to this news story, some believe that a repeal of Chapter 149 could be on the table next legislative session.

Unless Chapter 149 is repealed or revised, horse slaughter remains illegal in Texas—though it can ostensibly be carried out in other U.S. jurisdictions barring the passage of any federal law that directly or indirectly prohibits it. Whether U.S. horse slaughter, in my opinion, remains a viable option from a legal prospective will be the topic of an upcoming post.