At the end of January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California’s ban on processing of non-ambulatory, or “downer,” livestock, specifically pigs and hogs. The ban on the sale of pigs too weak to walk cannot be enforced because a less rigorous law regulates slaughterhouse inspections.
California state legislators approved of the ban in 2008 after the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released a video( see it below ) showing cows that could not walk being kicked, dragged and prodded with forklifts in the processing line at a state beef-packing warehouse. Supporters of the ban said meat from downer animals was more likely to be diseased. As part of its efforts to protect consumers from Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or “mad cow” disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forbids the sale of meat from animals suffering from serious illness, including cattle that are unable to walk. But federal law does not prohibit meat sales from downer pigs and other “non-ambulatory” animals including sheep, and goats.
The National Meat Association challenged the law, and it was blocked by a Californiafederal district court judge. Then, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco overturned the lower court ruing in 2010.
The association appealed the case to the Supreme Court saying that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) pre-empts the California law. Under FMIA, the U.S. Food and Safety and Inspection Service provides inspection for all meat products sold in interstate commerce, and it re-inspects imported products to ensure that they meet federal food safety standards.
Tom Burkgren, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians said during an interview with AgriTalk Radio, the proposed ban ignored the fact that there are differences among the species of animals it covered. Both Burkgren and Doug Wolf, president of the National Pork Producers Council, agree that a non-ambulatory hog with will recover after resting, and in most cases pose no threat to food safety.
In an article in AgriMarketing, Wolf, also a hog farmer from Wisconsin, said, “The Supreme Court’s ruling affirms the supremacy of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and USDA’s role in regulating meat plants. It also recognized that non-ambulatory hogs with proper recovery time and veterinary oversight do not need to be condemned immediately in all cases.”
In a press release, the Humane Society said the challenge to the ban on downed animals was driven by the pork industry along with the Obama administration. The release did point out that state cruelty laws in federal slaughterhouses, and it is still illegal to buy or sell downed animals outside the slaughterhouse. The organization is deeply disappointing by 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,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO 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.”