Midweek News  serving DeKalb County, Illinois
For the week of October 22, 2003

Cavel prepares to reopen despite local opposition
Residents and some legislators don’t want the horse slaughtering plant to begin operations again

By Diane Strand
The MidWeek

DeKalb has the “distinction” of being one of only three cities in the United States where horses are slaughtered, and the horsemeat sent to Europe, Japan or Mexico.

However, a coalition of thousands of animal rights supporters is working both nationally and in the Illinois legislature to shut down the industry.

Plants in the two other cities, both in Texas, have been operating since the 1940s, even though they reportedly violate a Texas law barring slaughter of horses for human consumption.

In some places—Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, Mexico and Japan—horsemeat is considered a delicacy that can sell for as much as $15 per pound. DeKalb’s slaughterhouse, Cavel International Inc., experienced a fire of unknown origin in March 2002, and now is getting ready to reopen. Paul Rasmussen, DeKalb director of community development, said the company has met all city requirements and needs no further permits. However, Gail Vacca, who operates a racehorse training farm south of town on IL 23, said it’s not going to happen. Vacca is a member of a national coalition that she said numbers in the hundreds of thousands. It is bent on passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act and a bill in Congress, HB857, has 94 co-sponsors.

Meanwhile, House Bill 3845 is being sponsored in the Illinois Legislature by Rep. Robert Molaro, R-Chicago, and it is expected to be addressed in this fall’s “veto session” now underway. Vacca said Cavel plans to open in December. The bill is opposed locally by Sen. Brad Burzynski and Rep. Dave Wirsing, both republicans from Sycamore.

The bill amends the Illinois Horse Meat Act, and says it’s unlawful for any person to “slaughter a horse, possess, import into or export from the state, or sell, buy, give away, hold or accept any horse meat.” It also forbids buying, possessing or selling a horse with the intention that it be used for human consumption. The bill in Illinois has drawn the support of DeKalb County Board member Jeff Metzger. Vacca said, “He’s working with us on trying to pass both the state and federal bills. He wants not only to help out but to get involved with rescues. We need more people like him. I think humane issues will be a big concern in the country.”

Metzger said, “I am a supporter of animal rights, though not an extremist. It’s not a county issue, but I am a concerned citizen. It was surprising to me to learn that those kinds of things are still happening.” He suggested that, if there is a market for horse meat in other countries, the industry should locate in those countries.

In rescues, people like Vacca go to horse auctions and bid against individuals she calls “killer buyers” known to be involved in the horsemeat industry. Counter to the industry argument that it provides euthanasia for old and sick animals, Vacca said the industry prefers young and healthy animals because their meat tastes better.

The Society for Animal Protective Legislation, based in Washington DC, reports that each year, thousands of horses are slaughtered in this country. In 2002, according to USDA records, 42,312 horses were killed for human consumption alone. Thousands more are shipped out of the country for slaughter elsewhere.

Vacca said activists including the National Horse Protection Coalition, other humane groups, horse owners and trainers, as well as members of the National Jockey Club, Breeder’s Cup, Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and Churchill Downs, Inc., are uniting under one banner. Recently, they also hired a lobbyist.

Vacca is a licensed trainer of thoroughbred race horses, takes care of retired animals and periodically rescues horses from “kill pens.” Vacca said she started her horseback riding career at age four and has owned, ridden and trained horses ever since.

“I think the city realizes it made a mistake, but is leaving it to the state (to do something about it).” She said the city is probably afraid of being sued by Cavel.

Vacca cited three areas of inhumane treatment. After horses are purchased at auctions, they are transported in double decker vehicles to auctions in other states.

She said they can’t raise their heads and some become ill or die before they arrive at the slaughter house.

There the horses smell blood and panic. A stun gun is fired at each animal’s head, but Vacca said the animals fight so ferociously that some are not stunned properly. The animals then are lifted by one leg, their throats are slashed and they are “bled out.”

Obviously, other animals such as cattle, hogs and sheep are killed for meat in this country with acceptance by the public—even though other animal rights supporters oppose their use for meat also.

Vacca argued that’s comparing oranges to apples. “Horses have carried our kids. They have grown to depend on humans for their very existence, and now they need us.” (See related story for Cavel’s responses.)

In this week's print version of The MidWeek, the story "Cavel prepares to reopen despite local opposition," mistakenly states that Rep. Dave Wirsing and Sen. Brad Burzynski support House Bill 3845. In fact, both legislators oppose that bill.