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Court rules against Cavel

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007 12:00 a.m. CDT

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a state law that bans the slaughter of horses for human consumption - and could close the Cavel International facility in DeKalb. It's the latest twist in a saga that has seen Cavel's doors open and close several times in the past few years, as well as caused heated debate among DeKalb County residents who either supported the horse-slaughtering plant or felt the business was inhumane. The owners of Cavel filed the appeal with the federal appeals court after U.S. District Judge Frederick Kapala ruled in early July that the Belgium-based business did not prove the state law was unconstitutional. The legislation describes horses as &#8220companion animals” not fit for human consumption. Cavel was closed after that ruling, but two weeks later the plant was allowed to reopen and operate while the appeal was being considered. It was not clear Friday if or when the plant would close again, or if Cavel would ask the three-judge appellate panel to reconsider its ruling or would ask the full court to take on the case. At the Aug. 16 federal court hearing in Chicago, Cavel attorney J. Philip Calabrese argued that the ban, which was signed into law May 24, violates and negatively affects foreign-commerce laws. Cavel - the sole remaining horse-slaughtering facility in the country - exports all horse meat produced at the DeKalb plant to Europe and Japan, he said. In the 15-page ruling, Circuit Judge Richard Posner wrote that the curtailment of foreign commerce by the state legislation is slight and noted that the court is &#8220naturally reluctant to condemn a state law,” even if that law is supported &#8220if somewhat tenuously by a legitimate state interest, on grounds as slight as presented by Cavel.” &#8220Yet we are not entirely happy about having to uphold the Illinois statute,” Posner wrote in the ruling. &#8220That the company is (foreign-owned) and its entire output exported means that the shareholders and consumers harmed by the amendment have no influence in Illinois politics, though there is no hint in the history of the amendment of local hostility to foreigners but only of indifference to them.” Posner was referring to a remark made May 24 by State Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke that &#8220there is no domestic market for horsemeat and, therefore, no need for this practice to continue in Illinois.” Cavel had also argued that Illinois' specific ban on human consumption of horse meat serves no purpose, because horses that are too old or no longer useful will be killed anyway. &#8220Even if no horses live longer as a result of the new law,” the court wrote, &#8220a state is permitted, within reason, to express disgust at what people do with the dead, whether dead human beings or dead human animals. &#8220There would be an uproar if restaurants in Chicago started serving cat and dog steaks, even though millions of stray cats and dogs are euthanized in animal shelters.” When reached Friday afternoon, Calabrese said he was not sure what the ruling meant for Cavel or what the company's next step would be. A woman who answered the phone at Cavel said the company had no comment on the ruling. Organizations and individuals who have long petitioned to have the facility shut down were pleased with the decision. &#8220We're very excited that this case has come to its conclusion, and the will of the people of Illinois and of state lawmakers will be enforced,” said Mike Markarian, executive vice president of The Humane Society of the United States. It was one of two organizations that filed an amicus curiae brief - known as a &#8220friend of the court” brief - for the appeal. Such briefs provide legal information in an advisory capacity. &#8220This is the final chapter in the horse-slaughter industry's saga, and it's a great day for all people who care about the welfare of horses,” Markarian said. &#8220We are pleased that the appellate court has upheld the constitutionality of the law,” said Natalie Bauer, spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office handled the appeal. Cavel has operated in DeKalb for 20 years and employs about 60 people. The former Cavel plant was destroyed in a 2002 fire, the cause of which was never determined, but the facility was rebuilt and reopened in 2004. Cavel slaughters between 40,000 and 60,000 horses a year, according to the court's ruling, out of a total of about 700,000 horses that either are killed or die of natural causes in the United States annually. Cavel buys its horses for about $300 apiece from brokers who obtain them at auctions, according to the ruling. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Dana Herra can be reached at dherra@daily-chronicle.com. Kate Schott can be reached at kschott@daily-chronicle.com.

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