Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Horse-slaughter bill up for debate again

By Scott Miller

SPRINGFIELD -- Officials at a horse-slaughtering plant in DeKalb may be facing more trouble in their effort to get the business back on track.

State Rep. Robert Molaro, D-Chicago, is again sponsoring legislation that would make slaughtering horses for human consumption illegal in Illinois. The effort is aimed at keeping the Belgian-owned Cavel International facility from reopening later this year.

On Tuesday, an Illinois-based animal rights group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, lobbied for the bill with help from some Illinois horse owners.

The group, known as SHARK, claimed it has more than enough votes to pass the bill.

"Horses are raised and trained for many reasons in Illinois," said Gail Vacca, a horse trainer from DeKalb and a SHARK lobbyist. "One of the things they are not trained for is dinner."

Even if the legislation is approved, however, Cavel officials say they won't quit without a fight.

"We wouldn't just close down the plant," said Jim Tucker, a Cavel manager.

Tucker said the company hadn't decided on any plans if the state does outlaw horse slaughtering. The company could challenge the law in court, or the company could file for an injunction, meaning the government could not enforce the law on Cavel.

State agriculture officials also said the legislation may be unconstitutional because of a federal law allowing horses to be killed for human consumption.

"States cannot pre-empt federal law," Illinois Department of Agriculture spokesman Jeff Squibb said.

Cavel has been trying to reopen its operation since the plant burned down in March 2002. Before the fire, the facility sent horse meat to Europe and Asia for human consumption.

Cavel is currently rebuilding and expects to reopen in mid-March.

Molaro sponsored similar legislation last year but removed the bill from debate out of respect for the death of state Rep. Dave Wirsing, who represented the DeKalb area.

Tucker downplayed the lobbying work of SHARK and other activists.

"We see this as a very vocal minority having more of an impact than they should have," he said.

The legislation is Senate Bill 1921.

Copyright 2003, Pantagraph Publishing Co. All rights reserved.