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 See Article 719e of Vernon’s Texas Penal Code (now repealed).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.
1973: The 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.
1991: The 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.