The recent emergence of mad cow disease in the United States has focused public attention on the country’s meat inspection laws. Omaha’s meat inspection ordinance in 1901 was the subject of a whimsical account by the Omaha Daily News of October 10, 1901:
“The size to which rabbits grow in Europe and America was the principal and only question discussed in police court yesterday afternoon at the trial of Henry Bonehoff of Benson, charged with bringing uninspected meat, and suspected to be horse meat, into the city limits.
“The reason for the transformation of the court from a dispensary of justice to a class in natural history was a clause in the new meat inspection ordinance, providing that it is unlawful for any one to bring into the city limits the carcass, or portion of a carcass of an animal larger than a rabbit, unless it has been properly inspected. The wise men who passed the ordinance undoubtedly meant that the animal in question should be larger than a rabbit, but the attorneys for Bonehoff so construed it to mean that the individual pieces of meat should be greater than a rabbit. As Bonehoff’s meat was cut up into small chunks, the defense sought to prove that none of these pieces were larger than a cotton tail, a jack rabbit, Belgian hare or any old kind of a rabbit.
“This interpretation of the law opened up limitless possibilities and, for the whole afternoon, the court was regaled with a choice assortment of rabbit stories which rivaled the best fish story ever told. Charles Daltrop, a friend of Bonehoff, testified that he saw a rabbit in Germany in 1890, which was at least three feet long. A neighbor of Bonehoff once saw in Montana a rabbit which resembled a young antelope. Another witness saw in Colorado a monstrous rabbit, whose fur was so large it was used for a rug.
“Dr. Ramacciotti testified for the state that Bonehoff’s meat was uninspected and that several pieces exceeded in size the largest rabbit he ever saw. This completed the testimony. City Prosecutor Thomas then asked for a continuance to look up authorities in natural history to prove that rabbits never grow to be more than a foot and a half in length.”