The Humane Society of the U.S. is cheering but not many cattlemen are happy about last Friday's ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. A three-judge panel from the Big Easy ruled that a 1949 Texas law that bans horse slaughter for human consumption is valid.

The ruling affects two of the nation's three horse slaughter plants -- Dallas Crown Inc. at Kaufman, and Beltex Corp at Fort Worth. A third plant, Cavel International, Inc., is located in DeKalb, IL. The plants produce horsemeat for export to the European Union and other countries.

C.R. "Dick" Sherron, president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, says horse slaughter is an emotional issue, and a legal decision based on emotion is alarming and has threatening implications for owners of other types of livestock. There are approximately 9.2 million horses in the country, Sherron says, and USDA figures show that about 88,000 horses, mules and other equines were slaughtered in 2005.

"That's fewer than 1%," he says, "which is a good indication that slaughter is not a decision horse owners make indiscriminately."

Former Texas Congressman Charles Stenholm, a spokesman for a coalition of about 200 organizations that want to preserve the option of a humane way to handle unwanted horses, says the plants are weighing options, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
-- Burt Rutherford