-- A movie star with family ties to the Alton area and a Metro East
animal rights activist testified Wednesday before an Illinois Senate
Committee that later approved legislation to bar a DeKalb company from
slaughtering horses and selling the meat for human consumption.
Setting aside warnings that the bill might actually lead to more abused and neglected horses, the Senate Executive Committee voted 9-2 to send the measure to the full Senate.
Actress Bo Derek, speaking for the National Horse Protection Coalition, told the committee that America should not turn horses into food for other nations.
"They are not livestock," she said. "Theyíre raised as pets. Theyíre raised for sport."
Derek, best known for her role in the Blake Edwards film "10," co-starring Dudley Moore, told fellow animal rights advocates that her mother, Normagene White, was an Alton native. She was known as Normagene Bass when she graduated from Alton High School in 1949.
Among those who testified against allowing the slaughter of horses was Ledy VanKavage of Collinsville, an attorney for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"I think the lobbying helped, and all the pet owners who wanted the horse slaughter ended in our state helped by calling our senators and representatives," VanKavage said.
VanKavage said Illinois law gives special protection to horses as companion animals, meaning they are considered to be pets, the same as cats and dogs, rather than as livestock to be used for food.
"I donít know any farmer who raises horses for slaughter," she said. "We raise pigs and cattle for food, but we donít raise horses for food."
VanKavage said those involved in the lobbying effort also oppose the use of captive bolt guns to kill horses. The gun is a method used in slaughterhouses that involves shooting a retractable metal rod into the animalís skull, which is supposed to render the animal unconscious in one blow. Unfortunately, it often requires two or more blows from the device to kill a horse.
"If you need to dispose of your horse, there are more humane ways to dispatch it," she said. "I donít know of a veterinarian who uses a captive bolt gun to kill horses."
VanKavage said she hoped the full Senate would pass the bill and send it to the Illinois House soon.
"Time is of the essence," she said.
The billís critics say slaughterhouses provide a way for people to get rid of unwanted horses. If the practice is banned, the critics say, people who canít afford to keep a horse or to have it euthanized are more likely to neglect or abuse the animal.
The legislation targets the Cavel International Inc. slaughterhouse that operated for years in DeKalb before a fire destroyed the building. Now, after two years of rebuilding, the business -- one of only three in the United States to slaughter horses for human consumption -- is ready to reopen.
Officials with Belgium-based Cavel say they expect to be moving as many as 100 horses a day to slaughter at the DeKalb operation within weeks.
Before the fire, Cavel slaughtered 15,000 horses a year at DeKalb. The meat was shipped to Europe for human consumption, and most of the rest of the animal was sent to rendering plants to be processed for other uses, such as fertilizers and glue.
Gail Vacca, Illinois director of the National Horse Protection Coaltion, said she was "extremely pleased" with the outcome of Wednesdayís hearings.
"I think itís important that the legislators seemed to indicate theyíre aware how important this issue is to people in Illinois and to horse owners, in particular," Vacca said.
She said a diverse group of horse owners had joined in the National Horse Protection Coalition, including those from the thoroughbred horse racing industry, pleasure horse stables, show horse stables, the harness racing industry, veterinarians and humane organizations.
Sheryl King, who heads the equine studies department at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, defended the practice of slaughtering horses. She told the committee that the horses are killed humanely and predicted that the legislation would lead to far more unpleasant deaths for neglected animals.
Cavel also argues the measure would have a human impact -- taking away 40 jobs and a $1.1 million payroll from the DeKalb economy.
Cavel general manager James Tucker told The Associated Press earlier this week that if the ban is approved, the company would ask a federal court for an injunction to give it time to argue that the state does not have the authority to regulate international commerce.
About 50,000 horses are slaughtered in the United States each year for human consumption overseas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Two bills to ban the practice are pending in Congress.
The Associated Press contributed some information for this article.
|©The Telegraph 2004