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Death Penalty for Texas Prison Horses Stirs Controversy

Between February 2003 and November 2004, the Texas prison system sold 53 horses to the Dallas Crown slaughterhouse in Kaufmann, Texas, for processing into meat for human consumption. This violates § 149.003 of the Texas Agriculture Code. The first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and 30 day to 2 years in jail. Subsequent offenses carry two to five years in prison. The practice of selling horses for meat has stirred controversy throughout Texas and resulted in much criticism of TDCJ.
Horsemeat has become popular in Europe due to mad cow disease outbreaks. However, it is still illegal even if the horsemeat was intended for sales overseas, according to 2002 Texas Attorney General's Opinion No. JC-0539. The statute clearly forbids the sale of horsemeat for human consumption and the transfer of horses or horsemeat to a person intending to sale it for human consumption. Enforcement of that 1949 law has been temporarily enjoined by a federal judge hearing a suit brought by slaughterhouses.
Dallas Crown said it paid $400 to $500 for each horse. The horses were inspected by veterinarians from Texas A & M so they could be sold for slaughter. TDCJ has a herd of 1,700 horses that assist in the supervision of prisoners working without pay in the fields and help control its huge cattle herd.

Tom Fordyce, former director of TDCJ's agricultural business, says it's an emotional deal.

Is it in the best interest of the state to euthanize the horse, and then go out and bury the horse?" asked Fordyce. Or could I try to salvage some money out of this horse to lower the costs of operating the agriculture program?

Well, what most police departments do is adopt out their retired horses. The City of Dallas usually sells them to the family of the police officer who rode them while Houston generally gives them away.

We don't do any of the auctions or slaughterhouses," declared John Cannon, Houston Police Department spokesman.

Fordyce has a typically Texan retort for that: blame the victim.
For whatever reason, they may have been a rogue animal," said Fordyce. We wouldn't want to turn around and sell that at auction to a mother and father to give to their 5-year-old kid to ride.

The U.S. House of Representatives has addressed the general issue of sales of American horsemeat by passing legislation forbidding the government from funding the inspection of horsemeat, a necessary step before it can be sold. Unfortunately, that won't affect TDCJ's sales of retired work horses. Nor will it persuade Texans to show as much compassion for their state prisoners as they do for the prison system's work horses.

Sources: Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle.

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