Illinois Slaughterhouse Rebuilding

by: Les Sellnow
November 2003

Construction is under way on a new horse slaughtering facility in DeKalb, Ill. to replace a plant that burned to the ground March 31, 2002. Plans call for construction to be completed some time in December.

The capacity of the new facility will be 100 horses per day, the same as the destroyed plant, says James Tucker, comptroller for Belgian-owned Cavel International (which owns and will operate the plant). Tucker said the new plant will have pens for "very short" duration holding of horses which arrive for slaughter. The new plant will employ about 40 people, and is located in an industrial park on the south side of the city. Meat from the slaughtered horses will be shipped to markets in Europe.

When completed, the plant will bring the number of horse slaughtering facilities in the United States to three. The other two are in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area. Their fate, at the moment, rests with the judicial system. The Texas Attorney General's office has filed a lawsuit declaring that the slaughterhouses are operating in defiance of state law. The case has been taken under advisement by a judge.

The fire that destroyed the Cavel plant in Illinois 17 months ago remains unsolved, says Tucker. While no cause has been determined by either the DeKalb Fire Department or the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, nothing has been ruled out. The old building, Tucker said, was constructed of metal. The new facility will be of concrete block construction. A Cavel horse slaughtering facility in Oregon was leveled by fire in 1998 and has not been rebuilt. The cause of that fire was not determined either.

Construction of the new Cavel facility is being opposed, with two of the protest leaders being Thoroughbred trainers Jan Ely and Gail Vacca. Also a leader in the protest is AnnMarie Cross, president of Crosswinds Equine Rescue. She was quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying that many people were concerned with the way in which horses are transported for slaughter.

Russ Farnum, principal planner for the city of DeKalb, was quoted in the same article as saying that although objectors have attempted to stop construction of the facility, as long as Cavel applies for the appropriate permits, construction can't be stopped.

"They have all the zoning approval to keep moving forward," he was quoted as saying. "As long as they are in compliance with code, we have to issue a permit, even though people may not agree with what we are doing."

The issue concerning the humane transportation of horses to slaughter was addressed by the USDA and new rules and regulations were implemented in February 2002.

"It is interesting," says Tucker, "that the only horses included in those rules and regulations are horses going to slaughter. It doesn't say anything about transporting horses in general. We are not requiring people to send their horses to slaughter," he said. "We are providing a facility for people who want to send their horses to slaughter. It is all handled in strict compliance with USDA rules.

Although there are protests, Tucker said, it has not been a widespread movement. "Every time this issue comes up, there are always some people who don't agree with what we do," said Tucker. "But this current project has been on the boards since the fire, and the negative responses have been notably small. I don't think that either we or the city of DeKalb have received more than 100 or so (protest messages), and in the Internet age, that's very few."

Cavel first opened a horse slaughtering plant in DeKalb in 1987. Tucker said the plant operated without incident during the 16 years of its existence.