01/24/2007 1:00AM

Court upholds Texas anti-slaughter law


A federal appeals court in Louisiana has ruled that a 1949 state law in Texas banning the sale of horsemeat for human consumption is enforceable, a ruling that would bar two of the three existing horse slaughter plants in the United States from continuing to operate.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Louisiana, ruled that the state law had not been "repealed or pre-empted" by federal law, as argued by attorneys for the two slaughterhouses, which are owned by Beltex Corporation and Dallas Crown Inc.

The ruling will free local prosecutors in Texas counties to pursue action against the slaughterhouses. In 2002, the district attorney for Tarrant County, Tim Curry, sought to close the slaughterhouse located in Tarrant, citing the law and citizens' complaints, but a federal district court ruled in 2006 that the 1949 law was repealed by a different statute. Curry filed the appeal.

A ban on horse slaughter has become a national issue in recent years, pressed by the Humane Society of the United States, other animal-rights organizations, and the Thoroughbred industry. Critics of the ban include a wide array of other horse organizations and property-rights activists.

Last year, federal legislation that would ban horse slaughter for the purposes of human consumption passed by a large margin in the House of Representatives, but the bill was never taken up by the Senate. Identical legislation has been introduced this year in both legislative houses.

Only three plants in the U.S. currently process horse meat for human consumption: the two in Texas and another in DeKalb, Ill.

In a statement, Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, praised the Fifth Circuit Court's ruling, while urging airlines to stop shipping horsemeat to foreign countries.

"This is the most important court action ever on the issue of horse slaughter," Pacelle said. "When this ruling is enforced, a single plant in Illinois will stand alone in conducting this grisly practice."- Matt Hegart