Slaughterhouse Challenge Dismissed; Appeal Possible

The last United States plant that slaughtered horses for human consumption will remain closed after a federal judge July 5 dismissed its challenge to the state law that shut it down.

The Belgian-owned Cavel International Inc. plant in Illinois closed after a U.S. District Court judge denied its request to continue operating while the case was being considered.

“We are disappointed in the ruling and respectfully disagree with it,” Cavel attorney Phil Calabrese said. The attorney said he would talk with Cavel about a possible appeal, which he called likely.

The plant had sold some of its meat to U.S. zoos, but most was shipped for diners overseas. The plant had operated for about 20 years and slaughtered about 1,000 horses a week, according to plant officials.

Supporters claim that without horse slaughterhouses, older or otherwise marginalized horses would be neglected or abandoned because some owners will not pay the cost to have them euthanized.

Critics say the slaughterhouse process is inhumane. Some also argue the U.S. has no tradition of raising horses for meat and shouldn’t be doing so to satisfy foreign consumers.

In May, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law banning the import, export, possession, and slaughter of horses intended for human consumption. The company immediately challenged the state law in federal court, and the judge granted a temporary order that prevented officials from enforcing the ban. He extended the order once, but refused a second extension, which forced the plant to close June 29.

“We're pleased that the court found the law to be constitutional,” said Robyn Ziegler, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Attorney General's office.