Animal advocates decry Texas horse feedlot (US)

By BETSY BLANEY Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press
Cross-posted from the Houston Chronicle

LUBBOCK, Texas — Animal health advocates want improvements made at a West Texas horse feedlot where they say live horses are feeding in pens as carcasses decompose in the open and that some horses eat hay from atop compost piles.

State environmental investigators have not been able to verify the allegations in four trips to the Frontier Meat Co. just outside Morton in the past year. All of the trips have been without warnings or notification, said Terry Clawson, a spokesman for the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality.

The operation, which feeds horses and buffalo, is owned by Fort Worth-based Beltex Corp. The company has been cited for failure to have permit to operate and failure to have solid waste storage permit, which pertains to the carcasses not being composted correctly, documents show.

Calls seeking comment from Beltex and Frontier Meat were not immediately returned Monday.

Commission documents show that the feedlot manager told investigators last fall that about two horses a day die.

Feedlot employees should be “doing whatever they can to keep these animals alive,” said Julie Caramante, an animal cruelty investigator who volunteers with Animals’ Angels, a Maryland-based nonprofit group. “What is happening to those animals out at the lot is not right on many levels.”

It was not clear Monday why the animals are dying.

The most recent complaint was filed Wednesday.

The repeated allegations and photos included in some of the complaints at the Morton location are enough to prompt follow-up investigations, said Keith Dane, director of equine protection at the Humane Society of the United States.

“We find all of those certainly despicable and most likely in violation of at least one state law,” he said. “We urge the authorities to investigate and take appropriate action.”

He did not cite a specific law.

According to commission documents, the first complaint, filed in April, alleged feedlot operators were “burying large numbers of animals in open burial pits for several years.”

At that time there were about 900 horses and 900 buffalo begin fattened at the feedlot, commission documents show. The feedlot sends the horses to slaughterhouses outside the U.S.

Investigators issued a violation notice because the feedlot didn’t have a permit to operate but said the complaint’s concerns about the burial of animals “could not be verified.”

A second complaint was filed in July and again could not be confirmed. Investigators learned from the feedlot manager that “carcasses are collected and composted each morning,” commission documents show. The manager described the process as “a layer of manure, the carcasses and then additional layers of manure in series.”

Investigators said in their report that the composting procedures “appear to be in compliance” with state law governing composting.

In an investigation following a complaint by Animals’ Angels in August, a “visual observation” of the composting area “did not meet the definition” of composting but was rather determined to be “industrial solid waste storage.”

“This company does appear to have some sort of problems with disposal of carcasses,” said Laura Allen, executive director of the Animal Law Coalition

The feedlot did not have a permit to store solid waste and was issued its second notice of violation in less than a year, documents showed.

In a September followup to the August complaint the feedlot was getting assistance to set up proper composting procedures, documents show.

Lubbock resident and horse lover Ramona Foxworth said the feedlot has been in Morton for years and that she and a rescue group she runs, Gypsyheart Horse Rescue, took 35 pregnant mares and some foals from the operation about two years ago.

Many of the horses were sick and some of the mares had rain rot, a fungus. “Horrible” is how she described conditions at the feedlot, saying the horses are “packed in like sardines” and they urinate and defecate all over one another.

“We’ve been trying to get something done for a long time,” she said. “We’ve been trying to spread the story. Once you’ve seen (the feedlot) it will touch your heart in ways nothing else can.”

In 2007, when state-imposed bans closed the last three U.S. horse slaughterhouses, a record 78,000 horses were exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics compiled by the Humane Society of the United States.

Morton is about 55 miles northwest of Lubbock.

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