The nations total number of horse slaughtering plants has dropped from three to one as a federal appeals court ruled last Friday that horse slaughtering is illegal in Texas. After the court's ruling the only horse slaughtering plant remaining is in DeKalb, Illinois.
In his ruling, Judge Fortunato Benavides of the 5th circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans wrote, "The lone cowboy riding his horse on a Texas trail is a cinematic icon. Not once in memory did the cowboy eat his horse." According to the AP, the court's decision "overturns a lower federal district court's ruling last year on a 1949 Texas law that banned horse slaughter for the purpose of selling the meat for food."
There are two aspects here that stand out for me.
One, that there are actually operational horse slaughtering plants up and running in 2007.
Two, the way Benavides' decision cites popular culture as part of his rationale. I'm sure the actual decision is based on law and not movies, but it's interesting to me that he chooses not actual history to cite, but cinematic history. There's something about the repeated moving imagery of a cowboy on a horse that speaks to Benavides more than any actual history of the west apparently has; it's not that cowboys rode horses as much as it is that cowboys rode horses in movies.
And didn't eat them. Though, to be fair, they did, at times, punch them.
That many westerns are fabrications is nothing new, of course, but if I wasn't certain Benavides was basing his decision of law and not movie memory (which seems to be the case given that the 5th Circuit overturned a law by a lower court that overturned the 1949 law that's actually on the books) it would make me wonder what directors like John Ford (who was often pretty adamant that depictions of the "wild west" in his movies were John Ford's West and not Actual History West), Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone would think about their fictional films influencing 21st century law.
The people of Texas appear pleased with the court's ruling. Mayor of Kaufman, Texas Paula Bacon told the AP: "This business has not been a positive for our community at all. To have state law finally enforced and to have this business close its doors for good is fantastic news."
The AP reports that 88,000 horses are slaughtered each year in the U.S. and that "horse meat is not marketed as table fare in the United States, but the slaughter plants process hundreds of horses each week and ship the meat overseas, where horse flesh is considered a delicacy in Europe, Japan and other places." All three U.S. plants, ironically or not, are foreign-owned, and the U.S. Congress has a bill pending to close all three plants.
Here's a link to the Society for Animal Protective Legislation website where they discuss the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA).
And here's a link to the House of Representatives version of the AHSPA bill, HR 503.