Thursday, May 20, 2004

Legislation banning slaughtering

By Scott Miller

SPRINGFIELD -- Hollywood beauty Bo Derek smiled from the crowd Wednesday as a Senate committee approved a ban on slaughtering horses in Illinois.

The actress's lobbying efforts proved successful Wednesday, but legislation aimed at preventing a controversial slaughterhouse in DeKalb from reopening still must face the full Senate, where it could receive harsh criticism.

"I just don't understand why we want to take away another option for getting rid of horses," said state Sen. Debbie Halvorson, D-Crete.

Belgium-based Cavel International in DeKalb slaughters horses and sends the meat to Europe for human consumption, a practice that has animal-rights groups fuming.

"It's not in a country with a famine or where the protein might be needed, but at gourmet restaurants," said Derek, national spokeswoman for the National Horse Protection Coalition. "(Horses) are not livestock. They are a symbol of beauty, a symbol of freedom."

But opponents argue the plant is good for DeKalb's economy. The plant will provide nearly $90,000 in property taxes and $30,000 in income taxes, said Gerald Perry of Cavel.

In addition, Cavel, which partially reopened this week after rebuilding from a 2001 fire, eventually will employ 40 people with a $1.1 million payroll, Perry said. The company already employs 20 people.

"That's 20 families in DeKalb that will not have income and that will not have insurance," he said.

On average, a Cavel employee earns $12 per hour with full medical insurance, Perry said.

Animal rights activists were not impressed.

"DeKalb itself is one of the fastest-growing communities in Illinois," said Gail Vacca, horse owner and thoroughbred-racehorse trainer from DeKalb.

"In the two years there has been no operational horse slaughter plant in our town, we have continued to grow and become stronger economically," she said. "DeKalb has done nothing but prosper without the horse slaughter plant."

Efforts to ban horse slaughtering have already failed in the House, gaining only 55 of the 60 votes needed for approval. The Senate committee approved the measure 7-3 with Halvorson voting "present."

The ban is contained in an amendment to House Bill 649.