The Courier News Online

Processors of horse meat take U.S. Senate heat


DeKALB Critics of a local horse-slaughtering plant received a boost Tuesday when five U.S. senators introduced a bill that would ban killing horses for human consumption.

If signed into law, the measure likely would put Cavel International Inc.'s horse-slaughtering plant in DeKalb out of business. The company's original facility was destroyed in a fire two years ago but is scheduled to reopen within the next few weeks, according to Cavel controller and project manager James Tucker.

Human consumption of horse meat is almost unknown in the United States but is common in Europe, where Cavel sends its product. The Italians, French, Dutch and Belgians are especially fond of horse meat.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., introduced the Senate bill, which is almost identical to legislation that was introduced in the House by New York Republican Rep. John Sweeney more than a year ago and since has attracted the support of 204 of his colleagues in the 435-member House.

"State laws aimed at ending this barbaric practice have fallen short," Ensign, a trained veterinarian, said in a statement. "I look forward to seeing this bill signed into law."

Late last month, a proposal to ban the slaughter of horses in Illinois failed to find enough votes to win passage in the state House of Representatives.


Hurdles in U.S. House
Despite the steady increase in support for Sweeney's measure in the U.S. House, the bill never may come to a vote there because of opposition among members of the House Committee on Agriculture, according to John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville. Feehery said Hastert has not taken a position on the bill.

Joining Ensign in introducing the Senate bill were three Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and one Republican, Maine's Susan Collins.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald said he had not had a chance to review the legislation. Calls to the office of Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., were not returned Wednesday.

The House bill has garnered the backing of 12 of Illinois' 19 U.S. representatives. Nine of its supporters are Democrats and three are Republicans.

Critics of commercial horse slaughter cite as reasons for the ban Americans' traditional affection for horses and allegedly inhumane killing methods used at slaughterhouses.

Cavel kills its horses with a gunpowder-fired bolt to the head, Tucker said. A 2000 report by the American Veterinary Medical Association called such bolts "an effective method of euthanasia for use in (horse) slaughterhouses."


Vets groups oppose bill
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors are present at Cavel's plant and the nation's two other horse-slaughtering plants both of which are in Texas whenever they operate.

Chris Heyde, executive director of the National Horse Protection Coalition, said that the House bill recently picked up another three sponsors, bringing the total to 207. He predicted it could boast 225 supporters by the end of the month.

"We have an opportunity to put an end to cruelty," he said.

The House and Senate bills are opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

"Humane slaughter may not be the most desirable option for addressing the problem of unwanted horses," AVMA President Jack Walther said in a recent statement. "However, it may be preferable to allowing these horses to face a life of inadequate care or possible abandonment."

Both groups argue that money necessary to care for the tens of thousands of horses that are slaughtered every year does not exist. The AAEP estimates it costs $1,825 per year to care for a horse.