Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has signed legislation that bans the slaughter of horses in Illinois for human consumption.
The law, sponsored by State Representative Robert S. Molaro (Democrat, Chicago) and State Senator John Cullerton (Democrat, Chicago), bans importing or exporting horsemeat if it will be used for human consumption.
"It's past time to stop slaughtering horses in Illinois and sending their meat overseas. I'm proud to sign this law that finally puts an end to this practice," Blagojevich said.
The slaughter trade in the US has been under building pressure over the last year, with repeated legal challenges affecting operation of the three plants. The two in Texas are already closed after a 1949 ban on slaughter was upheld in a federal court. The plant operators sought leave to resume operations pending an appeal but the deadline passed without a higher court hearing the appeal.
Animal rights supporters, with victory in Illinois, are now likely to increase lobbying for a federal ban. The concern now is that horses could be shipped beyond US borders to less regulated plants.
The bill before federal lawmakers currently not only would prevent slaughter for human consumption but would also ban export of live animals for the same purpose.
Governor Blegojevich, in signing the law which closes the Illinois plant, announced his support for the legislation after hearing from advocates, including Bo Derek, actress and longtime activist for the protection of horses, in April. Violations of the new state law are punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of $1500.
"People were selling horses not knowing that they were being used and treated like livestock and ended up on the slaughter room floor," said Senator Cullerton. "This bill will ensure that using horses for the purpose of human consumption is illegal throughout the state of Illinois just as it is in 48 other states in the nation."
"I am grateful to my colleagues and the Governor for joining with me in ending this shameless slaughter of these beautiful animals for the sole purpose of ensuring fine dining in European restaurants," said Mr Molaro.
"There is no domestic market for horsemeat and, therefore, no need for this practice to continue in Illinois," Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. "Meat from the slaughtered horses is being shipped overseas to places like Belgium, France and Japan."
The Illinois plant was run by Cavel International in DeKalb.
Bo Derek praised Illinois lawmakers. "As both a horsewoman and a compassionate person, I applaud the resolve of the people of Illinois to end the cruel, bloody trade in horsemeat.
"My family hails from the state of Illinois and I know they would be proud of the actions taken on behalf of our horses by Governor Blagojevich, Representative Molaro and Senator Cullerton."
Chris Heyde, deputy legislative director for the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, applauded the law change.
"With a stroke of his pen, Governor Blagojevich has brought the brutal slaughter of horses in the United States to an end. Hereafter, may we only hear of horse slaughter recounted in history books as a sign of how we have progressed in our treatment of these majestic animals," he said.
"On behalf of our national coalition that includes thousands of Illinois horse owners, we are deeply grateful to Governor Blagojevich, Representative Molaro, Senator Cullerton, and all members of the Illinois General Assembly who have worked so hard to pass this essential legislation to protect horses from the cruel practice of horse slaughter," said Gail Vacca of Top of the Hill horse farm in Wilmington.
"Illinois horse owners are proud today in the knowledge that our state legislature has set the bar in raising the standard for the humane treatment of our nation's horses."