U.S. Supreme Court Overturns California Slaughterhouse Law

The justices unanimously struck down a state law that would have required slaughterhouses to euthanize animals that can't walk and kept the meat from being eaten.
by | January 23, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a California state law that meatpacking industry leaders fought to oppose, reports the Associated Press.

National Meat Association v. Harris was a classic case of contradictory federal and state laws. The Federal Meat Inspection Act "regulates slaughterhouses' handling and treatment of non-ambulatory pigs from the moment of their delivery through the end of the meat production process," wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the court opinion. California's law "endeavors to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same place -- except by imposing different requirements. The FMIA expressly pre-empts such a state law."

When a slaughterhouse animal loses the ability to walk, federal law requires a full examination of the animal for possible diseases but allows it to be sold for food. But in 2008, after the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released a video of slaughterhouse workers "dragging, kicking and electroshocking sick and disabled cows," the opinion states that the federal government instituted the biggest beef recall in the country's history. That same year, California passed a law requiring animals that can't walk to be immediately put down and barred from being used as meat. It would have applied to cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, according to the AP.

The meatpacking industry argued that the law would have raised their operational costs, while groups like HSUS said it would have protected animals from abuse and people from unsafe food.

Governing called the California Attorney General's office, but they have no comment on the ruling.

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