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House rejects bill to repeal horse slaughtering ban

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SPRINGFIELD –  Illinois’ ban on horse slaughtering has been upheld by state lawmakers, but the fight over the issue continues.

The House rejected House Bill 583 that would overturn the two-year-old ban by a 67-50 vote Wednesday. The bill needed 60 “yes” votes to be approved.

But Rep. Jim Sacia, a Pecatonica Republican pushing to overturn the ban, used a procedural move to call the measure for another vote, possibly later this week.

“I’m going to talk with my fellow legislators and I would hope I can try again soon,” he said.

A lobbying campaign by animal rights activists culminated in lawmakers banning slaughtering of horses for human consumption in 2007. The ban led to the shutdown of the Cavel plant in DeKalb – the last operating horse slaughtering plant in the nation.

The vote was another example of lawmakers “putting their heads in the sand and trying to ignore something that has become a big issue,” said state Rep. Robert Prichard, R-Hinckley.

Cavel is in his legislative district and Pritchard has never supported the horse slaughter ban.

“The lesson on all of this is, it’s fine to be against something, but bring forth a solution,” he said. “If you say we can’t slaughter horses, then how are we going to handle unwanted animals?”

Sacia believes the ban has robbed Illinois horse owners of a means to dispose of unwanted horses. As a result, he says, thousands of horses have been shipped to inhumane slaughter plants in Mexico.

Since the DeKalb plant closed its doors, there’s been a rise in the number of complaints regarding horse abuse and neglect reported to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. There were 461 complaints in 2006. In 2007, the year the plant closed, that number jumped to 681. In 2008, 730 complaints were reported.

Opponents of the ban also have argued that the loss of the Cavel plant has resulted in lost jobs. Cavel International generated $20 million in annual revenues and employed 60 people before the business was shuttered. Currently, Cavel is being leased to a company that slaughters sheep and goats in accordance to Muslim dietary rules and employs eight to 10 people, according to company officials.

“It was ridiculous to value a horse’s life over that of a family and put that worker, even one worker, out of a job,” said Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.

Supporters of the ban argue that the practice of slaughtering horses is inhumane no matter where it takes place.

“Barbaric slaughter of horses is still barbaric slaughter of horses, whether it’s done in Mexico or in Illinois,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie.

Former state Rep. Bob Molaro, who pushed for the ban two years ago and now works with The Humane Society of the United States, promised to continue to fight repeal efforts.

“It would have been a black eye to Illinois if we would have been the only state to allow the barbaric slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas,” he said. “I’m sure this bill will rear its ugly head again and when it does, we’ll be there to beat it back down.”

Daily Chronicle City Editor Kate Schott contributed to this report.

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