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Monday, January 22, 2007

Judges Save Texas Horses From Slaughter

After four years of legal wrangling, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled on Friday that Beltex Corporation and Dallas Crown, Inc., two horse slaughterhouses in Texas which slaughter horses and then sell the meat abroad for human consumption can be prosecuted for doing so under Texas state law, according to an organization working to protect the horses.

In 1949, and several times thereafter, the Texas legislature amended the state's Agriculture Code (Chapter 149) making it illegal to sell, possess and transport horse meat for sale for human consumption.

For the last 6 years, the Society for Animal Protective Legislation (SAPL) has led the fight to end horse slaughter in America. As part of its campaign to end horse slaughter for human consumption, SAPL worked with well-known Dallas Attorney Robert "Skip" Trimble on finding ways to have Texas state law enforced. The Texas Attorney General (now U.S. Senator John Cornyn), was asked to issue an opinion on the enforceability of Chapter 149. Mr. Cornyn declared that the law criminalizes the activities of the horse slaughter facilities in Texas and that it is in fact enforceable.

Fearing prosecution by Tarrant County District Attorney, Tim Curry, who was pursuing enforcement of the law, the horse slaughter facilities filed for an injunction in federal court to enjoin any prosecution of them arguing that the specific Texas state law at issue had been repealed, was preempted by federal law and violated the dormant Commerce Clause. The
United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas agreed and permanently enjoined District Attorney Curry from pursuing legal action against the horse slaughter facilities.
Finding the district court's reasoning "backward" and "flawed," the 5th Circuit ruled that Texas state law making it illegal to slaughter horses and sell or transfer horsemeat for human consumption is in effect and "survives the constitutional challenges raised by the slaughterhouses." In reaching its opinion and vacating the district court's permanent
injunction, the court found that ending horse slaughter will protect horses and prevent the problem of horse theft in America. The 5th Circuit flatly dismissed the district court's finding that the alternative measures Texas takes to protect horses are adequate to preserve and protect horses.

The district court's permanent injunction will not be lifted if the slaughterhouses seek a rehearing within 14 days. They also can try to seek certiorari from the United States Supreme Court within 90 days. "While this ruling is an important step in resolving this issue, it is not yet
concluded because the law protects the slaughterhouses' right to further review of this decision, just as with any litigant," notes Assistant Criminal District Attorney Ann Diamond who is handling the case for the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney's Office.

"This ruling, while significant and just, is bittersweet because it hasn't stopped horse slaughter yet," says Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director of SAPL. "That end will come. I foresee an end to this brutal practice in Texas and elsewhere through the eventual enforcement of the
Texas law and adoption of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act in the U.S. Congress."

"SAPL commends the Tarrant County District Attorney and his staff for their steadfast commitment to the law and protecting horses," notes Heyde. "While the DA's office continues to follow its case we urgently call on Congress to pass the pending federal legislation so that horse slaughter throughout the entire U.S. will be banned and export of horses to Mexico and elsewhere will be prohibited as well."

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