(CN) - Federal law pre-empts California prohibitions on the slaughter of any animal that cannot stand or walk, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel "The Jungle," which sparked an uproar over conditions in the meatpacking industry, inspired legislators to enact the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). A similar thing happened in California about a hundred years later, when the Humane Society released a video showing "downer" cows - those which can't walk or stand - being kicked, electrocuted, dragged with chains and rammed with forklifts at California's Westland/Hallmark Slaughterhouse.
Some workers are also videotaped trying to make the cows stand with simulated drowning achieved by spraying pressurized water into their noses. Release of the video in January 2008 triggered the largest beef recall in U.S. history, and California amended its laws to prohibit the slaughter for consumption of any nonambulatory animals. The new law requires slaughterhouses to immediately euthanize such animals.
A federal judge determined, however, that the state regulations were pre-empted by the federal law, which states that nonambulatory animals can undergo further inspection and may be slaughtered and sold for human consumption if they pass.
After the 9th Circuit reversed in 2010 on appeal, the National Meat Association sought relief from the nation's high court.
On Monday, the justices were unanimous about the sweep of the federal law's pre-emption clause as it pertains to section 599f of the amended California penal code.
"The clause prevents a state from imposing any additional or different - even if nonconflicting - requirements that fall within the scope of the act and concern a slaughterhouse's facilities or operations. And at every turn §599f imposes additional or different requirements on swine slaughterhouses: It compels them to deal with nonambulatory pigs on their premises in ways that the federal Act and regulations do not."