Illinois Horse Slaughter Plant Cleared for Re-Opening

The nation's last horse-slaughtering plant can reopen while it challenges a state law that forced it to close twice in the last two months, an Illinois federal appeals court ruled.

Slaughtering operations at the Cavel International Inc. plant in DeKalb, Ill. had not resumed July 19, but the plant "will be up and running soon," said the company's general manager, James Tucker. He said he had to rehire at least some of the 55 workers laid off during the last closure.

The plant slaughters horses and ships meat to U.S. zoos and overseas for human consumption.

In late May, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law a measure banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption, or the import, export or possession of horse meat designated for human consumption.

Forced to close, the plant reopened for several weeks in June under a federal judge's order. It closed again when Judge Frederick J. Kapala decided against extending his order allowing the plant to operate while its appeal of the state law was pending.

Kapala later ruled Cavel's challenges to the state law on constitutional grounds were without merit, and the company appealed.

On July 18, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago granted Cavel's request for an injunction prohibiting officials from enforcing the state law. In the brief ruling, the court said "irreparable harm" would come to Cavel if not allowed to resume operations while the appeal is pending.

Cavel attorney Phil Calabrese said the company was "obviously very pleased." At the plant 60 miles west of Chicago, Tucker said "hopefully (the court) will make the right decision in the end and find that the law's unconstitutional."

Robyn Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the Illinois attorney general's office, which is handling the case on behalf of the state, called the appeals court ruling "another step in the litigation," and said the office will continue to defend the state law.

The Cavel plant has operated in DeKalb for about 20 years and before the recent closures, slaughtered about 1,000 horses a week, according to plant officials.

Supporters say without horse slaughterhouses, more older or otherwise marginalized horses would be neglected or abandoned because some owners won't pay the cost to have them euthanized.

Critics says the slaughterhouse process is inhumane. Some also argue the nation has no tradition of raising horses for meat, and shouldn't be doing so to satisfy foreign consumers.

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