Congress should revisit ban on horse slaughter

For kids on a neighborhood basketball court, or even for the president in a pickup game with superstars at the White House, the game of H-O-R-S-E can be an entertaining exercise.

But the "horse" played by many members of Congress for several years was a high-stakes match that caused an unnecessary uproar in the country, put at least three companies out of business and exacerbated a problem that few wanted to admit ever existed.

I almost hate to bring up the issue again. When I wrote about it a few years ago, the columns generated more hateful messages than just about anything I've ever done, including my constant fight against the death penalty and support for the election of Barack Obama for president.

It was a sacred cow — or should I say "horse" — that I hadn't known or thought much about until the public fight erupted in the early 2000s over whether horse slaughter for human consumption should be banned in the United States.

I understand the romance that Texans in particular have with the equine that has mesmerized people in the Western Hemisphere since the day Cortez rode into Mexico almost 500 years ago and was seen as a god.


We have romanticized the animal to the extent that the very thought of it being served for dinner is repulsive to many; sacrilege to others.

Just a few years ago, three horse slaughtering plants in the United States — two in Texas (including one in Fort Worth) — processed the meat mostly for Europe and some Asian countries. At one point, it seemed that many in this country were mostly upset that people in France were eating American horses.

The legal maneuvering persisted for several years. A Texas attorney general's ruling in 2002 upheld an obscure 1949 law banning the possession or transport of horse meat for human consumption. A federal District Court stopped the Tarrant County district attorney from enforcing that law by shutting down the local slaughterhouse.

Congress got into the act by cutting off funds for federal inspection of the packing plants. They continued to operate, however, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintained inspections and simply sent the companies the bill.

The Texas slaughterhouses shut down when the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the District Court's ruling, declaring the Texas law valid.

Opponents of horse slaughter chose to ignore the historical reality that horses were eaten before by Americans, including the military, especially in tough economic times. And they dismissed the arguments that many of the horses killed for human consumption were old, abandoned or otherwise maltreated.

In 2006 the American Quarter Horse Association even weighed in by saying "the processing of unwanted horses is currently a necessary aspect of the equine industry, because it provides a humane euthanasia alternative for horses that might otherwise continue a life of discomfort and pain, or inadequate care or abandonment."

The ban has not produced the desired effects, as documented in a recent report by the Government Accountability Office.


The report states since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007, about the same number of American horses are still being killed — almost 138,000 in 2010. But the slaughter is occurring in Mexico and Canada. In other words, we forced the business out of the country.

As some of us expected, the report also shows that investigations for horse neglect and abuse greatly increased in the last four years. Texas, California and Florida have reported more horses being abandoned on private or state land.

Just last week eight horses were found dead in Parker County, Texas, and a surviving animal had to be euthanized, after all had gone for days without water.

The political game of "horse" needs to end.

Several states have asked Congress to reconsider the matter. Texas needs to join them, as well as repealing its own ban on horse slaughter.

I doubt either will do anything soon. It's just too logical, and politicians today don't deal in logic.

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