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Sale of prison horses for meat criticized


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AUSTIN - Horse advocates are upset that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has sold some of its horses to a plant that processes horse meat for sale.

Dallas Crown, the Kaufman processing plant, purchased 53 horses from the department between February 2003 and November 2004, according to Kaufman County records. The plant sells the meat in Europe and Japan.

The state's retired work horses should be euthanized instead of sold to such plants, said Julie Caramante of Pearland, a volunteer with Habitat for Horses, an equine rescue organization.

"Is it in the best interest of my state to (pay to) euthanize the horse, and then go out and bury the horse?" Tom Fordyce, a former director of agribusiness for the Department of Criminal Justice, asked in The Dallas Morning News. "Or could I try to salvage some money out of this horse to lower the cost of operating the agriculture program?"

An attorney general's opinion says selling horse meat for human consumption, even to foreign countries, violates state law, but a federal judge has put the law on hold.

TDCJ uses about 1,700 horses throughout the state.

Dallas Crown said the horses probably sold for $400 to $500 each.

Applying the laws

The company processes the horses with the same technique used on cattle, a plant spokesman said.

A steel bolt is driven into the horse's head to stun it. Then the horse is bled to death.

"Everyone from the American Veterinary Association to Texas A&M University says it's the most humane way to slaughter an animal," said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for Dallas Crown and Beltex, a Fort Worth plant.

The 2002 attorney general's opinion by John Cornyn, now a U.S. senator, ruled that the law applies to a person who transfers "horse meat to a person who intends to sell" the meat for human consumption.

The U.S. House last week passed a provision that would prohibit the government from spending money to inspect horse meat, effectively barring the sale of horse meat for human consumption.

Chris Heyde of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation in Washington, D.C., said the department should have stopped selling horses to Dallas Crown when Cornyn issued the ruling.

"You would hope the agency would not profit from something that the attorney general has said is illegal," Heyde said.

Department officials said they are not violating state law. The agriculture code prohibits a person from selling horse meat for human consumption, but it does not prohibit selling horses for slaughter.

"TDCJ sold horses to a slaughterhouse, which is not prohibited by state law," agency spokesman Mike Viesca said.

Different solutions

Other agencies give away horses that can no longer work.

For example, the Houston Police Department offers to return horses to the owners who donated them.

"We don't do any of the auctions or the slaughterhouses," said Houston police spokesman John Cannon.

The Dallas Police Department often sells the horses to the families of the officers who rode them, said Dallas police Lt. Craig Miller, who oversees the Mounted Squad.

Fordyce said the issue is complicated and emotional. He has been around horses his entire life, he said, and would not eat their meat.

But some retired horses are not in good enough shape to ride.

"For whatever reason, they may have been a rogue animal," Fordyce said. "We wouldn't have wanted to turn around and sell that at auction to a mother and father to give to their 5-year-old kid to ride."

Few Americans eat horse meat, but the practice gained popularity in Europe during the mad-cow disease scare.


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