Horse-slaughtering bill passes House panelWirsing's death leaves DeKalb without House representation

SPRINGFIELD - A legislative panel approved legislation Tuesday that could stop a soon-to-reopen horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb in its tracks. The legislation, which would ban the slaughter of horses if the meat is meant for human consumption, was sent to the House floor for further debate on a 7-3 vote of the Executive Committee. Opponents of the measure said it was unfair to ram the bill through the General Assembly in the final days of the fall veto session because the DeKalb area is without representation in the House following the death of Rep. David Wirsing on Sunday. "We are absolutely without representation in our district," said DeKalb attorney Brett Boone, who is representing the owners of the slaughterhouse, Cavel International. Wirsing, a Sycamore Republican who represented the area, was opposed to the legislation, which, if approved, could result in the loss of up to 40 jobs at the Belgian-owned plant. The bill's sponsor, however, said he would press forward with the measure and could call it for a vote by Friday, the same day Wirsing will be laid to rest. "Out of respect, I'd love to hold the bill," said Rep. Robert Molaro, D-Chicago. "But if I don't call it today, it won't become effective until next July, and Cavel wants to open the plant before then." Animal rights activists, ranging from horse racing groups to the Central Illinois Humane Society, have been trying to block the plant from reopening after it burned down on March 31, Easter Sunday, last year. The plant - one of three in the United States - ships horse meat overseas for human consumption. Most Americans don't eat horse meat, but many Europeans are not averse to consuming the flesh. One activist said Illinoisans should be against "turning Seabiscuit into Seabrisket." Molaro said horses should not be killed because they are treated more like cats and dogs than other types of livestock. "We'd have the dubious distinction, save for Texas, of being the only state in the nation that allows the slaughter of horses for human consumption," said Molaro. But Jim Tucker, project manager for Cavel, said opponents of the plant are a vocal minority. "We don't feel it's a large issue," said Tucker. DeKalb officials have already approved rebuilding the plant and have shown no inclination to bow to what they say is pressure to do so from groups outside DeKalb. Anti-horse-slaughter activists have flooded Mayor Greg Sparrow and other top administrators with e-mail and letters opposing Cavel. The DeKalb City Council approved a permit to expand Cavel's original plant at Harvestore Drive and First Street in December 2001, after the plan commission had rejected the company's plans to build an entirely new slaughterhouse about a block away. At the time, residents who spoke in hearings before the plan commission, and plan commission members themselves, worried that building a new facility would make it possible for another animal slaughterhouse to move into Cavel's former plant. No official cause for the 2002 Cavel fire has ever been determined. The legislation that would shut down Cavel is contained in an amendment to Senate Bill 1921. --- Daily Chronicle City Editor Chris Rickert contributed to this report.

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