KAUFMAN, Texas -- A mile from one of three horse slaughter plants in the United States, the stale smell of offal and blood wafted under Mayor Paula Bacon's nose.
"It's a kill day, isn't it?" she said, referring to the plant's twice a week slaughter schedule. "It rained today, but it gets worse than this."
A jogger passes by Belgium owned Dallas Crown, Inc., a horse slaughter plant in Kaufman, Texas, Monday, Aug. 28, 2006. The bill before Congress, known as The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, aims to shutter Dallas Crown and other horse processing operations in Fort Worth and DeKalb, Ill. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)
Bacon and others want the Dallas Crown Inc. slaughter mill to close. The U.S. House could signal its fate with a vote expected Thursday on a bill that would outlaw slaughtering horses for human consumption.
Families in the nearby Boggy Bottoms neighborhood say odors from Dallas Crown keep them indoors. Bacon says the plant's "stigma" stifles development and job growth in this rural exurb of 7,000 about 30 miles southeast of Dallas.
Dallas Crown officials insist that local opposition to the plant is not widespread and is mostly limited to a few Boggy Bottom residents and the mayor.
The plant and its Belgium owners have survived numerous attempts to close it in recent years. But the horse slaughter debate is "as focused right now as it's gotten," said Dallas Crown attorney Mark Calabria.
The bill, known as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, would shutter Dallas Crown and other slaughter plants in Fort Worth and DeKalb, Ill. Horse meat is not marketed as table fare in the United States, but the slaughter plants process hundreds of horses each week and ship the meat overseas. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in Europe, Japan and other places. Some goes to U.S. zoos.
The legislation doesn't directly prohibit horse slaughter but would effectively halt such operations by banning the transport and sale of horses for human consumption.
Lobbying on both sides of the bill is fierce. Supporters, including oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and country singer Willie Nelson, accuse the plants of cruelly killing young horses and call the processing operations an un-American slaughter of a cultural symbol.
Cattle associations and the American Veterinary Medical Association rush to the plants' defense. They say rescue shelters will be overburdened with unwanted horses and others will be sold across the border to face a slaughter that is less humane and not as stringently regulated.
Then there's the odor, horseflies, blood runoff, vultures and strain on the Kaufman sewage system that Bacon blames on Dallas Crown.
Some wonder, however, if the mayor, who will travel to Washington this week in support of the bill, is driven more by personal beliefs than civic concern.
A teacher in her second mayoral term, Bacon said she's simply aligned on the side of most constituents who "believed the lie" that Dallas Crown only slaughters old horses no longer capable of working.
Calabria, the company attorney, points out that state environmental officials found no air violations and wonders why Bacon wants to close a factory employing more than 50 people.
"Frankly, she's someone that doesn't think you ought to process or slaughter horses," said Calabria, a Kaufman resident. "(It's) her right to do so. But I don't know that she gets to use the mayor's pulpit as a soapbox to advocate her animal rights ideas."
Bacon claims Dallas Crown has treated Kaufman "like a doormat." She said Kaufman has spent about $55,000 in legal fees fighting the company since August 2004, and that her small city can't afford to continue being dragged to court.
"I am not an animal rights activist," Bacon said. "But I cannot likely prevail without Congress. (Dallas Crown) has deep pockets."
Lee Ayres, the Kaufman Chamber of Commerce president, disputes the mayor's claim that Dallas Crown's "stigma" scares away developers. In 11 years, he said, he's never seen a business hedge at settling in Kaufman because of the plant.
The city has fined the plant 29 times for wastewater violations - totaling about $58,000. Dallas Crown responded by requesting separate jury trials on each alleged violation, Bacon said. In March, the city's zoning board declared the plant a public health hazard and ordered it closed by Sept. 30. But a subsequent court ruling allowed the plant to remain open pending a trial scheduled for January.
By then, Congress may have already decided Dallas Crown's fate.
Robert Eldridge, a Boggy Bottoms resident, is not getting his hopes up that the plant will close.
He said he's spent a lifetime picking up horse bones that dogs carry into his yard and gagging from the stench of offal bins.
"Until I see them gone, I don't get excited," Eldridge said. "When they pack up the trucks and get out of town, I'll believe."
On the Net:
Dallas Crown Inc.: http://www.dallascrown.com
City of Kaufman: http://www.kaufmantx.org
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press