The Slaughter May Stop

By Carly Niceley

Changes in U.S. law soon may require Cavel International, the DeKalb horse slaughtering plant, to cease operation.

Changing laws

The bills seek to ban the processing of horse meat for human consumption. One Agriculture Appropriations bill allocates funding for the United States Department of Agriculture. A revision of the bill, if signed by President Bush, would cease funding for inspections at horse slaughtering plants.

By doing away with official inspections, the three horse slaughtering facilities in the country would be forced to shut down, including the DeKalb plant.

Two other bills – H.R. 503 and S. 1915 – if passed, would end the practice of horse slaughtering by prohibiting transportation to slaughter facilities.

While these bills are popular among animal rights activists and urban legislators, neither of the three bills provide alternatives for the horses, nor do they offer funds to keep the horses alive.

“Nobody wants to send good and usable horses to slaughter, and we haven’t been raising them as meat animals in the U.S., but there are a very large number of what have been termed unwanted horses, which are about 60,000 to 80,000 horses every year,” said Frank Bowman, president of the Horsemen’s Council of Illinois.

The Senate gave its final approval Nov. 3 to the FY2006 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which includes banning the slaughtering of horses for human consumption.

Bush is expected to sign the bill. Slaughterhouses would have four months to close plants, which poses a great deal of worry for Cavel’s 56 employees.

Jim Tucker, Cavel plant manager, said he does not think the plant is doing anything inhumane. And with the passing of this bill, he fears horse owners could have the right to put down the animals taken away.

“We put down horses that need to be put down and there are various reasons why horse owners need to put down their animals,” Tucker said.

The horses brought to Cavel are marginalized for medical, logistical or behavioral reasons, Tucker said.

“Sometimes the humane thing to do is to slaughter the horses,” he said. “The opposition paints an awful picture of what we do to horses.”

How horses are slaughtered in DeKalb

The horses stand in a line; Tucker has watched this process many times and claims the horses do not show fear while on “death row.”

A stunner, which does not make contact with the meat, is used to shock the animal – a shaft extends into the horse’s brain and retracts, causing the horse to fall down.

“After using the stunner, the horse is brain-dead instantly. If the process is not done correctly, we know this because the horse vocalizes or attempts to stand up; however, after we kill the horse with a stunner, I have never seen a case where the horse wants to stand up; they just go down like a sack of potatoes,” Tucker said.

Unwanted Animals

There are countless unwanted animals in the U.S., including horses that are not easily held in shelters as dogs or cats.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners believes that horse slaughter is symptomatic of a larger, more important problem; the thousands of unwanted horses throughout the country.

“We believe that slaughter is not the ideal solution for addressing the large number of unwanted horses in our country, but if a horse owner does not want the horse, which is the case for thousands of horses, then humane euthanasia by captive bolt at a facility regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is an acceptable alternative to a life of suffering and inadequate care or abandonment,” said Sally Baker, AAEP director of marketing and public relations.

The opposition

“To see these animals which we have defined as domestic beings led into a slaughter house is to see the contradiction between what we say we value and the reality of our disposable society,” said, Cherie Travis, president of the People & Animals in Community Together Humane Society.

Tucker said the slaughtering as humane because the animals have no concept of what is happening, nor do they feel any pain.

Travis recalls a starkly different image of horse slaughtering.

“I have watched videos of horses in slaughter houses and the images left my skin crawling for days. You could see the horses trying desperately to avoid having a bolt shot into their heads, you could see the fear and panic in the animals’ eyes, and you could see the dead horses being hoisted onto metal rods so the blood could drain onto the floor,” Travis said.

There is an undeniable possibility that Cavel will be shut down by the pending legislation. Tucker is worried, but he is also planning for the future.

“If it means that we don’t have inspections, then we will be out of business and we’ll have to take our investments elsewhere; some other kind of slaughtering,” Tucker said.