Marengo slaughterhouse moving forward again after delay, irking neighbors and Chicago activists

Opponents question validity of building permit, location for chicken and sheep processing facility

A slaughterhouse is under construction just west of Marengo city limits after the project last year was shelved by the operator of a Chicago poultry processor, irking neighboring residents and a regional activist group who thought it was off the table for good.

Opponents of the slaughterhouse – which will process and retail poultry and sheep, business operator Abbas Aldafri said – raised issues with the validity of the McHenry County building permit issued for the site, arguing it expired before work began.

A photograph shared by Marco Russo, a project opponent whose father lives on a property near the proposed slaughterhouse site on Grant Highway, shows the building permit was issued Aug. 14 and would become invalid if construction had not started within 180 days.

Russo believes the six-month period lapsed before work began, which he said started last month.

Aldafri said the contractor he is working with “does everything by the book,” and the activity occurring on the site so far this year has been legal. His facility will be able to process chicken and sheep, he said.

Officials with the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development looked into the dispute and are allowing the project to progress under the permit.

“The investigation rendered competing accounts of construction activity and inadequate evidence to determine the date work commenced on the site. Therefore, the investigation has been closed, and the permit status remains valid,” Adam P. Wallen, building enforcement officer and deputy director of the department, said in an email.

Russo, whose hometown is in Marengo, said his father and other family members living in the city are against the project moving forward. He said he thinks seeing a slaughterhouse at the western gateway to the city will make a bad first impression on visitors.

“When you come into a small city, there is a certain appeal all cities have. But the first impression is always the one people remember,” Russo said. “If you don’t know Marengo and you’re coming for Settlers’ Days and the first thing you see when you come into town is a slaughterhouse, I don’t think that’s the image that I want my hometown to have.”

Slaughter-Free Chicago, an activist group working to rid the region of slaughterhouses and prevent new ones from being established, claimed victory last year when Aldafri said the project was not moving forward.

Robert Grillo, founder of Slaughter-Free Chicago, said putting slaughterhouses along thoroughfares in highly visible areas just outside of municipal limits has become a popular strategy by the industry in recent years because the businesses want to attract traffic for potential retail sales in addition to conducting slaughters.

“This is happening all over the country,” Grillo said.

He said his group thinks slaughterhouses pose a threat to public health by exposing communities to foodborne illness outbreaks, and animal farming exacerbates world hunger and inequality by feeding a huge amount of the world’s grain crops to livestock instead people who go hungry.

The group also points out meat production is a major contributor to environmental problems, including greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.

Aldafri said the reason he did not proceed with the slaughterhouse development last year was because he was struggling to find financing for the project. But he has since found a lender willing to back the expenses to start up the business and decided to move forward.

Aldafri said he thinks his business will serve the community well, adding he already has farm customers from McHenry County interested in slaughtering services. He said he feels the concerns with his business are unwarranted.

“We’re not going to slaughter animals on the street or something,” he said.

He said his meat business in Chicago, Aden Live Poultry, has continued to attract attention from vegans who have tried reporting supposed infractions regarding how it operates.

“Lies after lies,” Aldafri said. “They keep calling the city, lying about stuff. They want to make the city tired. They want to make me tired.”

He said the Marengo business could be open by this summer.

“To the vegans, be respectful to other people who do eat meat,” Aldafri said.

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.