Daily Chronicle

Updated Wednesday, February 15, 2006 11:33 AM CST

Former DeKalb resident part of horse slaughter suit

WASHINGTON (AP) - Animal rights groups and people who live near the nation's three horse slaughter plants, including a former DeKalb woman, sued Tuesday in an effort to prevent the Agriculture Department from providing horse meat inspections for a fee.

The groups alleged that the department's plans to provide the inspections next month violate a provision of the 2006 agriculture spending bill signed by President Bush.

In that legislation, Congress eliminated funding for salaries and expenses of horse meat inspectors.

The plants have contended that the law will cost jobs and economic benefits. They slaughter horses for meat that is consumed in Europe and Asia and used in some zoos.

One of the plants, Cavel International, is in DeKalb. The other two are in Texas - Beltex Corp., based in Fort Worth, and Dallas Crown Inc., based in Kaufman.

The House and Senate voted overwhelmingly last year for the provision cutting off money for the horse meat inspectors. The measure was crafted by its sponsors as a way to end horse slaughter after other efforts to pass outright bans had failed in previous years.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the USDA is subverting the law to appease the horse slaughter industry.

"Americans want horses treated with dignity and respect, not served up on a plate in Belgium or France. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is rewriting the rules as if the views of the Congress and the American people don't even exist," Pacelle said in a statement.

Steve Cohen, a spokesman for USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, said the agency is following the law.

Cohen said the bill states that the department is "obliged under existing statutes to provide for the inspection of meat intended for human consumption (domestic and exported)."

The statement was added behind closed doors in conference committee and approved before opponents of the slaughter understood its effect.

Under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, the USDA is "directed and authorized" to conduct inspections on a fee-for-service basis, according to USDA Acting General Counsel James Kelly. The 2006 legislation prohibits spending funds to pay salaries and expenses of personnel for examination of live horses for slaughter but not for postmortem inspection, according to Kelly.

Along with the Humane Society of the United States, plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington are the Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Doris Day Animal League, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and American Humane Association.

The groups said people affected by reduced property values, odor from the plant and "horses' cries as they enter the kill chute" also are plaintiffs.

Cavel Manager Jim Tucker said the DeKalb plant hasn't received any complaints that it has lowered property values or created an odor. Also, he said, "I've never heard a horse whinny as it went down a chute."

He said the plant is fully operational and will continue being fully operational when it pays for inspections next month.

A former DeKalb woman who has actively lobbied against Cavel, Gail Vacca, was named as a plaintiff in the suit.

She had lived about two miles from Cavel and ran a farm where racehorses could go for "rest and relaxation," she said, but her business suffered because of Cavel.

"Owners were afraid to bring their horses near a major slaughtering plant," she said.

In November, she moved her business to Wilmington, near Joliet, because "enough was enough," she said.

As the Illinois coordinator for the National Horse Coalition, she's been interested in the horse slaughter issue for years, she said. She said she joined the suit to protest the USDA ruling that it would be justified in conducting inspections for fees without taking public comment on the issue.

Other plaintiffs in the suit are people from near the Texas plants and a woman from Indiana.

Staff writer Renee Messacar contributed to this report.