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Horse slaughterhouse under fire for environmental issues

March 21, 2007

The Humane Society of the United States has filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Cavel International horse slaughterhouse in DeKalb, Illinois. for repeatedly violating the federal Clean Water Act.

Cavel is the only location in the United States currently slaughtering American horses for human consumption. The notice was filed in response to numerous complaints The HSUS received from area residents and is based on records provided by the local sanitary district.

The notice, required under federal law before a lawsuit can be filed, alleges that Cavel International has violated the terms of its wastewater discharge permit numerous times during the last two years. The violations include the documented release of excessive "animal residue" into the local sewer system. The plant slaughters more than 500 horses a week and discharges about 13,000 gallons of wastewater per day during operations.

The excessive wastewater discharge is not the only environmental problem at the Cavel plant. Last month, an employee at the plant admitted that a new holding tank was oozing frozen chunks of waste.

Shortly thereafter, the local sanitary district ordered the facility to fix the wastewater problems at the plant or face closure on May 31, 2007. According to official records, the sanitary district has deemed the plant “in significant noncompliance” for its chronic wastewater discharge violations.

"The foreign-owned horse slaughter industry is on its last leg in the United States," said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president of animal protection litigation for The HSUS. "The escalating pollution problem at Cavel is one more reason to halt this grisly business once and for all."

According to state records, Cavel has repeatedly exceeded its allowable "biochemical oxygen demand," or BOD, levels in its wastewater discharge. BOD is a test used to measure the concentration of biodegradable organic matter present in a sample of water.

According to news accounts, Cavel has been fined several times for violating the terms of its permit because of high BOD levels, and the level of fines has been increasing. It was fined $500 in 2004, $5,500 in 2005 and $25,500 for violations in January through September 2006.

Cavel has been in operation since 1987 and currently slaughters well over 500 horses per week.

• A federal court of appeals recently upheld a Texas law banning the sale of horse meat for human consumption, which makes Illinois the only state in the country with an active plant still killing horses for human consumption.

• Legislation introduced February 22, 2007 is pending in the Illinois legislature to outlaw horse slaughter in that state.

• According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 100,000 American horses were slaughtered in the three foreign-owned slaughter houses in 2006. Another 30,000 were sent to Mexico or Canada for slaughter and 4,087 horses were imported to the U.S. for the purpose of slaughter.

• Opponents of the slaughter ban argue the practice constitutes a humane way to kill old animals, but investigations by The HSUS show cruelty and abuse throughout the process. USDA statistics show that more than 92 percent of horses slaughtered in the U.S. are not old and infirm but in good condition.

• The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 503/S. 311, is pending in Congress to ban the slaughter of American horses nationwide. Sponsors include Reps. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), John Spratt (D-S.C.), and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.).

• Nearly 70 percent of Americans are strongly against the slaughter of American horses for human consumption overseas.