Updated Saturday, May 29, 2004 1:02 AM CDT

DeKalb, Illinois  Daily Chronicle

Anti-horse slaughter bill defeated in House vote

SPRINGFIELD - Illinois lawmakers on Friday voted down an attempt to ban the slaughter of horses if headed for dinner plates overseas, meaning that the state's only horse slaughterhouse, Cavel International in DeKalb, is cleared to re-open.

"We are very pleased with the outcome," said Brett Brown, attorney for the Belgium-based Cavel.

Cavel, located at 108 Harvestore Drive, will be reopening in the coming weeks, Brown said. The original plant burned down in an Easter Sunday fire two years ago, months after getting the OK from the city of DeKalb to build a new, updated facility. The cause of the fire was never officially determined.

Cavel will be one of only three plants in the United States that slaughter horses for human consumption. The other two are in Texas.

The bill to stop horse slaughtering in Illinois passed the Senate on May 20 after '80s movie star Bo Derek, a spokeswoman for the National Horse Protection Coalition, testified before a Senate committee about her opposition to horses being turned into food. But it didn't get a similar reception in the House, where it failed 51-60. The House had rejected similar legislation in March as well.

Brown said the company doesn't expect any further attempts this year by state lawmakers to shut Cavel down.

There are, however, two bills in Congress that would end horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States. Brown said he doesn't expect federal lawmakers to act on them soon.

Gail Vacca, spokeswoman for the Illinois chapter of the National Horse Protection Coalition, said she and others opposed to horse slaughter will continue their fight in Springfield and Washington D.C.

Vacca expected the battle over horse slaughter to continue during the state's fall veto session.

"We are not giving up," she said. "This is not going away. We are not going to let down DeKalb like Rep. Pritchard let DeKalb down."

Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, opposed the ban on horse slaughter and said it failed because fellow lawmakers realized it would be unconstitutional and a threat to the agricultural industry. He also said the ban would have had a negative effect on the DeKalb County economy. Cavel is slated to employ about 40 people.

"This is about jobs," Pritchard said in a statement. "The defeat of this bill today is a victory for employment in our community, for broadening our local tax base and helping our school districts. It's an economic shot in the arm."

Pritchard's office claimed the plant has provided "good-paying" jobs and has generated $1.1 million in payroll taxes and $90,000 in local property taxes.

Pritchard said the House supported a measure requiring people who are auctioning off their horses, and who don't have a problem with them later being slaughtered for food, to sign a certificate to that effect.

"It clearly puts them on notice to take necessary steps to say they don't want the buyer to slaughter the animal," he said.

Some of the House bill's opponents said it ran counter to the state's agricultural industry.

"I have never seen anything slap Illinois agriculture in the face more than this bill does," said Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Pecatonica, who argued that it would be wrong to bar the slaughter of any livestock, no matter how unpleasant it looked on tape.

Opponents also questioned the constitutionality of the measure, saying it would be wrong to legislate what people can eat.

"I've got seniors eating cat food," said Rep. Charles Morrow, a Chicago Democrat who voted present on the legislation. "Maybe they ought to eat a horse. If you can eat Bo Peep, Bugs Bunny and Bambi, why can't you eat Mister Ed?"

He also complained about Derek's involvement, saying, "I find it insulting that we're now governing by celebrity."

Paul L. Mikolajczyk can be reached at pmikolajczyk@pulitzer.net. Associated Press Writer Ginny Skalski contributed to this report.