DeKALB - Cavel International has reached about 50 percent of its anticipated staffing level a month since restarting horse-slaughtering operations at its newly built plant. According to Cavel Manager Jim Tucker, about 20 employees are now working at the facility. The plant is expected to employ up to 40 workers, produce close to $1.1 million annually in payroll tax revenue and pay about $90,000 in local property taxes once it reaches full operations. Cavel, 108 Harvestore Drive, is one of three plants in America that slaughter horses for food to be consumed overseas. Tucker declined to comment on exact production numbers since the facility's license was renewed with the Illinois Department of Agriculture on June 2, but confirmed that Cavel has been gradually working to full production levels and will continue to increase staff as needed. Before a fire destroyed Cavel's original plant on Easter in 2002, the firm slaughtered about 15,000 horses a year. A state bill that would have banned horse slaughter was defeated in May, but animal rights activists and horse lovers have vowed to continue the fight to end the practice. Federal legislation that would have the same effect nationwide as the state bill is stuck in committee. Tucker said that there haven't been any serious internal or external problems affecting operations since the failed attempt to keep Cavel from reopening. When asked about the morale of the workers at the plant, Tucker said the employees have been doing well. "We are all happy to have jobs," he said. Paul L. Mikolajczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.