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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Meat Industry Must Adhere to Slaughter Laws

(CN) - The National Meat Association must abide by California laws that prohibit the slaughter-for-consumption of any animal that cannot stand or walk because the state's laws are not federally preempted, the 9th Circuit ruled.

In January 2008, 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.

"Footage also showed some workers trying to get nonambulatory cows to stand by spraying pressurized water into their noses to stimulate drowning," the opinion says.

The video triggered the largest beef recall in U.S. history.

In response, California amended its laws to prohibit the slaughter for consumption of any nonambulatory animals, and required that all such animals be immediately euthanized.

The National Meat Association complained to the district court that the amendments were preempted by federal law, which states that nonambulatory animals can undergo further inspection and may be slaughtered and sold for human consumption if they pass.

The association argued that a state only has the authority to exclude certain species from slaughter, like horses.

The district court agreed that the amendments were preempted and issued an injunction prohibiting their enforcement.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit ruled that states aren't limited to excluding animals from slaughter on a species-wide basis.

"What if the state wanted to ban the slaughter of a specific breed of pig but not the entire species? Or allow wild dogs and horses to be slaughtered, but not domestic companions?" the three-judge panel asked.

"In effect, the district court reasoned that the state may ban the slaughter of certain species, but once a state allows a species to be slaughtered, it cannot impose further restrictions. Hogwash," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the San Francisco-based panel.

Federal law does not "require the slaughter of downer animals; no slaughterhouse operator would be fined by federal authorities if he gave nonambulatory animals medical care and put them up for adoption as pets," the opinion says.

The panel ruled that the district court abused its discretion by issuing the injunction.

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