Federal Court Reinstates Texas Ban on Selling Horsemeat for Human Consumption

February 5, 2007 | Roger McEowen

The plaintiffs were three slaughterhouses that process and sell horsemeat primarily for human consumption abroad. Two of the slaughterhouses are located in Texas and the third was in Mexico. Since 1949, Texas law has prohibited the sale, possession and transportation of horsemeat for human consumption. In 2002, the Texas attorney general issued an opinion clarifying that the law applied to slaughterhouses in Texas. The plaintiffs sued, seeking to enjoin any potential prosecution against them that might be brought by Texas attorney general. The trial court issued a permanent injunction against prosecution of the plaintiffs on the basis that the Texas law had been repealed by subsequent state legislation, had been preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and violated the dormant Commerce Clause. The appellate court reversed. The court first noted that the TX statutory ban had not been repealed by a subsequently passed state statute regulating the sale of meat that can be sold legally to the public (such as horsemeat for use as animal feed). That legislation, the court noted only regulated the sale of meat products that are otherwise legal to be sold to the public; it did not govern horsemeat sold for human consumption, which was illegal. The court next ruled that the FMIA only limited states in their ability to regulated meat inspection and labeling, and had no application to state laws specifying what types of meat could be sold for human consumption. In addition, the court noted that the FMIA only applied to meat inspection, and indicated specifically that it did not intend to eliminate the ability of states to regulate meat entirely. Indeed, the court pointed out that five states presently ban the practice of processing horsemeat for human consumption. The court also ruled that the statute did not violate the dormant commerce clause because it treated both intrastate and interstate trade of horsemeat equally by way of a blanket prohibition, and did not burden interstate commerce to a greater extent than intrastate commerce. Similarly, the court reasoned that the statute advanced a legitimate state interest in preserving horses, preventing the consumption of horsemeat and preventing horse theft by removing the significant monetary incentives in the global horsemeat market. Empacadora De Carnes Fresnillo, S.A. De C.V., et al., v. Curry, No. 05-11499, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 1178 (5th Cir. Jan. 19, 2007).

Note:  On January 17, 2007 (two days before the court’s opinion), legislation was introduced into the U.S. House which would amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption. H.R. 503.