Activists: Supreme Court ruling strips states' ability to protect food supply, animals

A big setback this week in the effort to the end abuse of sick and disabled animals at slaughter plants.

Animal welfare activists say the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down California's landmark law banning the slaughter of so-called "downed" cows, effectively strips states of the ability to protect the food supply and the welfare of animals.

 In a unanimous ruling the court found that the 106-year-old federal Meat Inspection Act pre-empts the Califonia law which required "downer" animals be euthanized.

The Humane Society of the United States, whose 2008 video of workers kicking, dragging and using electric shocks on cows at a California slaughterhouse sparked national outrage that led to the tougher state law, said the ruling will have grave implications for food safety and humane treatment of animals at slaughter plants.

“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,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS.

“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.”

The challenge was brought by National Meat Association. According to a news release on the National Pork Producers Council website, pork producers in their friend-of-the-court brief argued that the California law created an animal health risk (there was no additional explanation for that claim) and criminalized the work of federal slaughterhouse inspectors.

“Non-ambulatory hogs that are allowed to recover pose no food-safety risk to the public,” said NPPC president Doug Wolf, a Wisconsin hog farmer. “Such pigs are inspected by USDA inspectors and veterinarians regarding their fitness for processing and entering the human food supply, and strong regulatory safeguards for humane treatment in the processing of animals already exist.”

Pacelle accused the Obama administration of stalling on a petition to eliminate the slaughter of downed calves at veal plants, following horrific video of calves being tortured at a plant in Vermont that was closed as a result. Nor has it taken action on a petition by the Farm Sanctuary pertaining to down pigs.

Portions of the California law were upheld, among them a ban on buying and selling sick animals outside a slaughterhouse and a ban on the transport of downed animals.