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MONTH: May 2007

Judge says horse slaughter violates National Environmental Policy Act


WASHINGTON D.C.--U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on March 28, 2007 ruled in Washington D.C. that the USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing horse slaughterhouses to continue killing horses for human consumption, after Congress in 2005 cut off funding for mandatory USDA inspections.

The USDA responded to the Congressional budget cut by allowing the three horse slaughterhouses left in the U.S. to fund their own inspections. Judge Kollar-Kotelly held that this action should have been subject to an environmental impact review.

Her verdict was a triumph for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, an arm of the Animal Welfare Institute, and for the Humane Society of the U.S., who sued seeking to reverse the USDA circumvention of the intent of Congress in February 2006.

"Because of continuing resolutions approved by Congress to fund the government, the ruling is effective immediately," rejoiced AWI president Cathy Liss.

"The funding limitation on inspections for horse slaughter contained in the 2006 Appropriations Act carry over through September 30, 2007," elaborated an HSUS media release.

In theory, horse slaughtering plants could kill horses only for animal consumption through September, a much less lucrative trade, and hope to resume business as usual on October 1.

"Because the Congressional act cutting funding for horse slaughter expires in September," HSUS explained, horse slaughter opponents are "calling on Congress to pass the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503 and S. 311) to settle the matter permanently."

Even if the USDA is again funded to inspect horse slaughterhouses, however, the Kollar-Kotelly ruling may offer an opening for further legal opposition.

"The District Court barred the USDA from inspecting horses for human consumption," the HSUS release continued, "because the USDA failed to conduct any review of the adverse impacts of horse slaughter on the surrounding communities."

The last three horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. are Dallas Crown of Kaufman, Texas; Beltex, of Fort Worth, Texas; and Cavel International, of DeKalb, Illinois. All three have long been controversial within their communities. Dallas Crown, closed for "restructuring" on March 23, 2007, had operated since March 2006 in defiance of an order to close from the Kaufman Board of Adjustments, for being an alleged public nuisance and health and safety hazard.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on March 6, 2007 affirmed a January 20, 2007 appellate panel ruling that both Dallas Crown and Beltex have killed horses for human consumption in violation of a 1949 Texas state law.

"As a result of the [Kollar-Kotelly] ruling, the USDA pulled its on-site inspectors, including a veterinarian, from the DeKalb slaughterhouse. The slaughter then ceased," wrote Chicago Tribune staff reporter John Biemer. The Belgian-owned Cavel Inter-national slaughterhouse killed about 1,000 horses per week, employing 55 people, Cavel general manager James Tucker told Biemer.

Continued Biemer, "The Cavel plant processed the meat from horses who had already been slaughtered, Tucker said. The company turned away six trucks containing about 200 horses, sending them back to suppliers. Local horse lovers tried to arrange for homes and shelters to take them in. Gail Vacca, a Wilmington-based coordinator forSAPL, said she had lined up quarantined stalls for at least 100 horses."

HSUS and Habitat for Horses, of Hitchcock, Texas, claimed to have found placements for another 400 horses.

But Illinois Department of Agriculture division manager for food safety and animal protection Colleen O'Keefe predicted to Biemer that the six truckloads of horses would probably end up at Canadian slaughterhouses.

The rescue effort ended up saving only 30 horses, whose Colorado owner contacted HSUS after learning that the horses could not be killed in DeKalb.

Said HSUS, "This group of horses was standing in line waiting to be slaughtered when news of the decision reached officials at Cavel International. While horses still waiting in trucks in the plant's parking lot were routed to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada, these horses were reloaded onto a truck bound for a stockyard in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

"HSUS agreed to pay the owner's expenses, and is partnering with the Denkai Animal Sanctuary in Carr, Colorado, to rehabilitate the horses so that they can eventually be placed with loving owners.
According to USDA data, 100,800 horses were killed in 2006 by Dallas Crown, Beltex, and Cavel. About 30,000 horses were exported for slaughter in Mexico and Canada.