Meat processing facility proposed for Hebron focus of anti-slaughterhouse group, letter campaign

A Chicago-based campaign with ambitions to stop animal slaughter operations in the region has taken aim at a proposal by a group with ties to McHenry County agriculture to bring a small-scale meat processing business to Hebron.

The campaign, called Slaughter Free Chicago, has recently sent more than 700 direct-mail appeals to residents and businesses in Hebron, said its founder and director, Robert Grillo. Its goal is to build opposition to Hebron Quality Meats, a proposed beef and pork processing facility that may also come with a retail butcher shop for downtown Hebron.

McHenry County members of the Slaughter Free group notified the campaign of the Hebron Quality Meats proposal, Grillo said.

Since the Slaughter Free mailing – which claimed slaughterhouses come with a risk of infectious disease outbreaks and “commonly violate” nuisance, sanitation, zoning, environmental and public health laws – the Hebron Village President Kimmy Martinez has also been inundated with emails, including from people residing outside Illinois, requesting the village hold up the proposal.

Local Hebron residents have also expressed concerns with the proposal since the mailing, she said.

So far, however, Martinez said she has not been persuaded that the Hebron Quality Meats idea is a bad one for the village.

“It was a fearmongering letter,” she said of the Slaughter Free mailing. “I am always looking for new business in Hebron, but this is a hot-button issue and I want to know what everyone in Hebron thinks.”

But it is unclear whether village officials actually have any power to stop the proposal if Steve Hoffmann and the other backers move forward.

The building they are considering using, located at 10201 Church St. in Hebron, is in an area that is already zoned for light industrial activity, which means animal slaughter would be allowed, Hoffmann said. They are seeking no variances or exemptions to the village codes.

Still, the village is gathering resident feedback on the matter, Martinez said.

Hebron is sending out a letter this month from Hoffmann and his associates about the planned business, as well as a survey for residents to respond to by mid-December asking for their input and opinions on the idea, she said. The proposal will be on the Village Board agenda for its meeting late next month.

Even without the Village Board being able to hold the project up, Grillo said there are opportunities for animal rights activists and others against slaughterhouses to participate in the public process surrounding the Hebron Quality Meats proposal, such as raising concerns to the state and federal agencies that issue permits needed to legally run a meat processing facility.

“What we could do is find loopholes in their proposal, and we might be able to require that the village do an assessment of their water system prior to this,” Grillo said. “There are a lot of things we could do to throw a wrench in this.”

Hoffmann remains confident the idea is being received well by a majority of Hebron residents, since he and his partners plan to focus on working with local livestock producers and offering cuts from animals that are pasture-raised without antibiotics or hormones. The facility would process up to 75 heads of beef a week.

“I was really surprised at the attention it was getting,” Hoffmann said. “I can kind of see where people don’t want to eat a hog that’s been in confinement its whole life and was raised with hormones, I can understand that. If [Slaughter Free Chicago] thinks everyone should eat plant protein, they should open up a plant in Hebron that makes it and put it in the store for everyone.”

This is not the first time Slaughter Free Chicago has rung its alarm over a proposal in McHenry County. Grillo shared a news release from Sept. 25 claiming the campaign played a role in persuading the owner of Aden Live Poultry in Chicago, Abbas Aldafri, not to go through with a slaughterhouse he had proposed on unincorporated land outside Marengo.

“In the end, it was our direct diplomacy with Aldafri that delivered the win-win we were looking for,” according to the release.

But that is not necessarily the case.

Reached by phone Monday, Aldafri said he received hundreds of calls a day from vegans, some of whom shed tears while urging him to put the Marengo proposal to bed.

He eventually killed the plan, he said, but not because of the campaign. Rather, it was finances that drove the decision to table it, which occurred months ago, he said.

“Just keep the place clean and make sure they treat the animals right and do the right thing,” Aldafri said as words of advice to others considering a meat processing business.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.