Slaughterhorse Rules: The Debate Over Updated Regulations Continues

With the USDA poised to once again allow the processing of horse meat, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram argues that Texas should repeal its 1949 law against the practice.
Mon December 12, 2011 11:39 pm
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Recently a change in federal regulations made it possible for horse slaughter facilities to reopen in the United States. Until 2007, Texas had two of the last three slaughterhouses in the country, despite the fact that there was a 1949 state law on the books prohibiting the practice. (The slaughterhouses continued operating due to non-enforcement.)

But the new federal provision, which lifted the ban on horse meat inspections, will have no impact in Texas unless its 1949 law, which prohibits the possession or transport of horse meat, is repealed. The  Fort Worth Star-Telegram 's editorial board argues that it should be, citing the same Government Accountability Office figures that inspired the new federal provision:

. . . since the closing of domestic slaughter houses in 2007, about the same number of American horses are being killed -- about 138,000 in 2010. The only difference is they are being transported to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.

In other words, three American businesses were forced to shut down and the work (and profit) went to foreign countries....

Nicole Paquette of the Humane Society of the United States responded to the editorial in a guest column for the Star-Telegram, arguing that the process of horse slaughter is “brutal and innately inhumane,” with “horrendous cruelty” occurring at the previous Texas plants despite the oversight of federal inspectors. She also contends that the industry isn’t a job creator:

The horse slaughter industry was never good for the economy -- it was good for the profiteers, and no one else. The foreign-owned horse slaughter plants that operated in Texas until 2007 caused nothing but controversy and problems. They employed no more than a few dozen people in low-paying, highly dangerous jobs. Profits didn’t benefit local economies, but were instead pocketed overseas by foreign corporations. The communities that hosted the plants were constantly beset by pollution and the unending stench of rotten blood and offal. 

In any case, Phil Derfler of the USDA noted that the bureaucratic wheels of process are slow to turn: 

To date, there have been no requests that the Department initiate the authorization process for any horse processing operation in the United States.

In the two states where horse processing took place prior to the Congressional ban, Illinois and Texas, there are laws in place prohibiting the slaughter of horses. Even if these laws were changed, any processing facility will still need to satisfy a significant number of requirements, such as obtaining a federal grant of inspection, conducting a hazard analysis, and developing a Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan prior to the processing of any animals.

At the Atlantic , Texas State University professor James McWilliams noted that even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is in favor of allowing domestic slaughter because they too see it as preferable to just shipping off American horses to Canada and Mexico. (In truth, PETA’s stated  position is to ban the export of horses for slaughter, as well as the domestic practice of the act. It’s just that until the former is accomplished, they have decided to tolerate the latter.)

McWilliams used this news as a platform to muse on whether foie gras is more or less ethical than eating horse meat, while asking, “Why is it, then, that most of us -- even staunch welfare advocates -- are able to discuss their slaughter as if were the most natural act in the world? How is it that even the most openly welfare minded of consumers can casually subjugate the ethics of slaughter to the logistics of location?”

While it’s arguable that “most of us” are discussing horse slaughter “as if were the most natural act in the world,” that definitely won’t be the case if a new domestic slaughterhouse does open in Texas. As the  Star-Telegram acknowledged, “Texans might not want to see this industry return to the state, insisting that eating horse flesh is sacrilege in a place where the cowboy is heralded as a heroic figure and his trusted four-legged companion is idealized.”

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