50 comments Supreme Court Overturns California Ban On Slaughtering Downed Animals

Animals raised for food suffered a setback on Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a California law that mandated slaughterhouses humanely and immediately end the suffering of livestock that arrive at facilities too sick or injured to stand on their own feet.

The unanimous vote was a victory for the National Meat Association, the group that challenged the law.

While several individual Justices noted the “good intentions” behind the California law to protect “downed animals”, as a group they decided the regulation violated a federal meat-safety law. Slaughterhouses fall under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, legislation that prohibits states from regulating any measure that makes an “addition to or is different from” the federal requirements.

California enacted their law in 2009 after the Humane Society of the United States released a video of downed cows being tormented by slaughterhouse workers. The shocking video from a slaughterhouse in Southern California showed cows that could not stand, being kicked, dragged with chains and hosed-down in an attempt to get them on their feet. It also showed animals being picked up with a forklift and placed into slaughter pens.

California’s law was particularly important to the handling of downed pigs because they are the least protected by the federal government. In fact the lawsuit was brought on behalf of California pig farmers.

The federal law allows a downed pig to be slaughtered if a veterinarian or federal inspector determines it is free of disease. The animal can then be forced onto its feet and taken to be killed. HSUS statistics show that 44,000 of the 100 million hogs brought to slaughter each year are unable to walk.

Pork producers say the animals are “overheated, fatigued or stubborn,” and most are back on their feet soon after arriving at a slaughter facility.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS gave the following statement about the Supreme Court’s ruling:

“This is a deeply troubling decision, preventing a wide range of actions by the states to protect animals and consumers from reckless practices by the meat industry, including the mishandling and slaughter of animals too sick or injured to walk. The fact is, Congress and the USDA have been in the grip of the agribusiness lobby for decades, and that’s why our federal animal handling and food safety laws are so anemic. California tried to protect its citizens and the animals at slaughterhouses from acute and extreme abuses, but its effort was cannibalized by the federal government.”

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