What Happens to Horses as Slaughterhouse Closes? DeKalb, Ill., 60 miles west of Chicago, was home to the only plant in the nation that slaughtered horses for human consumption. But Illinois lawmakers banned the practice this year, and the slaughterhouse was shut down. Some horse owners worry that the law might have made things worse.

What Happens to Horses as Slaughterhouse Closes?

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

The nation's last slaughterhouse providing horse meat for human consumption has closed. For the past 20 years, a plant about 60 miles west of Chicago slaughtered horses and shipped the meat overseas. After a legal battle with the state, it has been shutdown.

Tony Arnold has the story from member station WNIJ in DeKalb, Illinois.

TONY ARNOLD: The battle over slaughtering horses for meat has been going on for decades. One side is portrayed by Nancy Perry who is with the Humane Society of the United States.

NANCY PERRY: The reality is Americans feel this way. You know, they feel that horses are really special to us as a society. They have led us into battle, they have carried our mail, they have been Olympic and cultural stars throughout the different points in our history.

ARNOLD: The other side has advocates like David Brown(ph) who breeds horses in Illinois.

DAVID BROWN: Maybe it's my farm background, but I do not see a horse as a companion animal like a dog or cat. And I see them as livestock.

ARNOLD: Ultimately, the state of Illinois sided with the Human Society and its supporters and passed a law last spring that recently forced the last plant in the nation that slaughtered horses for human consumption to go out of business. Nancy Perry.

PERRY: It really was a business that never should've been operating on U.S. soil.

ARNOLD: Perry argues that when it comes time to putting the horse down, euthanasia should be the way to do it. She calls the slaughtering process inhumane, a characterization Jim Tucker disagrees with. Tucker was the general manager of the slaughterhouse Cavel International. He said the treatment was humane and that Cavel never slaughtered horses without a USDA inspector on site.

In June, when the issue of the state ban was winding its way through the courts, Tucker argued it was a free-trade issue.

JIM T: It cuts off a valid trade from Illinois to the world. And it's - and that is a disruption of international trade.

ARNOLD: Court documents show that the plant slaughtered close to 60,000 horses from around the country each year with a revenue of around $20 million. When it closed, nearly 60 employees lost their jobs in DeKalb, a small college town surrounded by cornfields.

Now, Nancy Perry wants to extend the ban north and south. She says, last year, nearly 40,000 horses were shipped for slaughter to Canada and Mexico. Congress held hearings last year on a bill to ban transporting horses to either country, but it hasn't gone anywhere.

Meantime, breeder David Brown says with Canada and Mexico still slaughtering horses, the animals will now have significantly longer trips.

BROWN: It's kind of like prohibition, you know. Be careful what you pray for because in the end, haven't we created a worst situation now?

ARNOLD: Walking on his 250-acre farm, past the couple of huge barns, Brown points out to a colt, his name is Quincy(ph), grazing in the pasture.

BROWN: Do you see right in front of his hip how that back raises up? That's a spinal defect. It's a birth defect.

ARNOLD: Brown says when Quincy was born, he had high hopes he would make a good show horse. But he's now waiting to see if he outgrows his spinal problems.

BROWN: The slaughter option that, you know, gave us at least a floor, it gave us a way to kind of call out the less useful horses.

ARNOLD: Brown says if the Cavel Slaughterhouse was still open, he can, at least get upwards of 400 dollars for the horse. Instead, like thousands of horse owners across the country, if he decides to put the horse down, he'll have to euthanize it himself because the option of the Cavel Slaughterhouse in DeKalb is no longer there.

For NPR News, I'm Tony Arnold in DeKalb, Illinois.

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