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Public disgust supports ban on horse meat

What the court held

Case: Cavel International, Inc. v. Madigan, No. 07-2658.

Issues: Is a ban on slaughtering horses for human consumption constitutional?

Holdings: Yes. The ban is not preempted by federal law, and public distaste for eating horses is sufficient grounds to ban the slaughter.

A state law banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption does not violate the commerce clause, nor is it preempted by federal law, the Seventh Circuit held on Sept. 21.

The court concluded that, even if there is no benefit to horses from the ban, the public’s distaste for eating horse meat is sufficient grounds to uphold the statute.

Although there is no longer any domestic market for horse meat, it is considered a delicacy in some foreign countries, and American horse meat is especially prized (Domestically, horse meat is fed only to pets and zoo animals).

Cavel International, Inc., runs the only remaining slaughterhouse in the country (in Illinois) that slaughters horses for human consumption, exporting its entire output of 40,000 to 60,000 horses per year, and employing 60 employees. The horses are bought for $300 apiece.

Earlier this year, the State of Illinois outlawed the slaughter of horses, if the person knows that the meat will be used for human consumption.

Cavel brought suit in federal court, arguing that the law was preempted by the federal Meat Inspection Act and violated the dormant commerce clause, and sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law.

The district court rejected Cavel’s challenge, and denied the request for an injunction.

Cavel appealed, and a divided Seventh Circuit granted the injunction against enforcement pending appeal. Cavel Int’l., Inc. v. Madigan, — F.3d —, 2007 WL 2239215 (7th Cir., July 18, 2007).

However, on reaching the merits, the court affirmed the district court, and dissolved the injunction, in a decision by Judge Richard A. Posner.

The court first held that the statute was not preempted by the federal Meat Inspec-tion Act. The court concluded that the federal act is only concerned with how meat is produced for human consumption, but not whether it is produced at all.

The court then held that the statute does not violate the dormant commerce clause either.

There was no claim that the law discriminates in favor of local firms — what the clause clearly prohibits.

In addition, language in Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142 (1970), and subsequent cases suggest that there must be at least “incidental” discrimination against interstate commerce for the clause to apply.

However, other cases suggest that, even in the absence of discrimination, a burden on interstate commerce that has no rational justification would be invalid. National Paint & Coatings Ass’n. v. City of Chicago, 45 F.3d 1124, 1131 (7th Cir. 1995).

Under either standard, the court held that the ban on slaughtering horses was constitutional, because the statute could not be said to serve no purpose at all.

The court acknowledged that horses will be killed anyway, and it makes little difference whether the meat is eaten by people or by pets and zoo animals.

However, Cavel buys its horses for $300 per head. In contrast, when a horse is slaughtered at a rendering plant or dies naturally, the owner pays the rendering plant to pick up the animal and euthanize it.

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Case Analysis

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The court thus concluded, “So when your horse is no longer useful to you, you have a choice between selling it for slaughter and either keeping it until it dies or having it killed. The option of selling the animal for slaughter is thus financially more advantageous to the owner, and this makes it likely that many horses … die sooner than they otherwise would because they can be killed for their meat.”

Because states have a legitimate interest in prolonging the lives of animals that people “happen[] to like,” the court held that the statute passed constitutional muster.

However, the court did not stop its analysis at that point, but went on to hold that, even if no horses lived longer as a result of the new law, the statute would be constitutional, because “a state is permitted, within reason, to express disgust at what people do with the dead, whether dead human beings or dead animals.”

The court found people’s “distaste” for the consumption of horses by others a sufficient rationale for the statute.

Accordingly, although the actual appeal only addressed the denial of the injunction pending appeal, the court treated the appeal as if it were from a final judgment, and affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case.

Click here for Case Analysis.

David Ziemer can be reached by email.

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