Plans for slaughterhouse in DeKalb draw protest

September 24, 2003


LEADERS BEHIND a movement to prevent the rebuilding of a horse slaughterhouse near DeKalb are attempting to generate civic and media momentum. And at least two Illinois-based thoroughbred trainers have moved toward the forefront of the crusade to stop the project.

Jan Ely and Gail Vacca are assisting in the efforts to publicize and thwart the planned rebuilding by Cavel International, a Belgian-owned company that provides horse meat to human consumers in Europe and Asia. The new facility will be able to process as many as 100 horses per day, according to Cavel comptroller James Tucker.

THE CAVEL PLANT near DeKalb was destroyed by a fire 17 months ago that remains unsolved by area authorities and the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. A similar Cavel facility in Oregon was leveled by an unsolved arson in 1998 and never rebuilt.

The double loss temporarily left Cavel out of the horse-meat production business in the United States. The only two U.S. slaughterhouses currently up and carving are in Texas.

SAID ELY: ''The consumption of horse meat by humans in the United States is illegal, which is why these people have to ship their product so far away. This entire project is totally unacceptable. We're not against euthanasia, which in some dire cases is a sad necessity. But the treatment and end of horses designated for a slaughterhouse such as the one proposed to be rebuilt near DeKalb is overwhelmingly inhumane.''

Only a small percentage of horses bound for U.S. slaughterhouses are former thoroughbred racers. Current wholesale cost for a doomed animal is estimated to be 51 cents per pound. Horses are shipped to the slaughterhouses under generally stark conditions and then killed with a steel bolt through the skull. Their throats are then slit before rendering.

BUT, SAID TUCKER: ''Everything Cavel International does is 100 percent within the bounds of the laws of the United States. These laws have been debated in Congress for more than 100 years, and obviously a majority of the American people agree with them. We also had been in DeKalb for almost 17 years without incident before the fire.

''Every time this issue comes up, there are always some people who don't agree with what we do. But this current project has been on the boards since the fire [in April 2002], and the negative responses have been notably small. I don't think either we or the city of DeKalb have received more than 100 or so, and in the Internet age, that's very few.

''All of our building and special-usage permits are in order. We expect building to begin shortly and be completed by December, with our operation prepared to start again later in the winter.''

Ely and Vacca are expected to be on hand Saturday afternoon at Hopkins Park on the north side of DeKalb for a candlelight vigil to protest the Cavel initiative. Ely said further information on her crusade is available at www.barntowire.com.

THE MANY FRIENDS and colleagues of Gene Cilio are storming the stable gates with prayers and good vibrations for the Chicago training icon. Cilio has drawn a most serious health foe in recent days. ... Christine Gabriel's ''Riding For a Cure'' -- her annual breast-cancer awareness trail ride -- drew close to 180 saddlehorns Monday. One of the most kind-hearted was car dealer/thoroughbred owner Frank Mancari, who presented Gabriel with a sizable check for her cause.

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