Supreme Court to Decide if California Can Help Sick and Injured Pigs

Written by Cheryl Leahy

Injured PigsOral arguments began yesterday at the U.S. Supreme Court over whether the state of California has the legal authority to enforce a state law meant to end the suffering of slaughter-bound sick and/or injured pigs who are too sick or weak to walk.

The California law has been on the books since 2008, and it requires that pigs who arrive at a slaughterhouse in a “nonambulatory” state be “humanely euthanized” on the spot rather than pushed and prodded through the slaughter process. While this state law also applies to other livestock, including goats and sheep, this legal challenge arose  because of its application to pigs — and the potential loss of significant profit for pork producers if “downed” pigs in California can’t be slaughtered and sold for their meat.

Animals raised for food in the U.S. are affored very little legal protections, especially on the federal level. In fact, from the moment their born until the time they’re packed up onto trucks bound for the slaughterhouse, there are no federal laws to protect farmed animals. The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA) governs the actual slaughter process for meat production, giving some protection to pigs, cows, and other “livestock” animals (but not chickens or other birds).

In 2009, shortly after the Humane Society of United States released a shocking undercover video of slaughterhouse employees violently forcing sick and injured cows to walk, the Obama administration reacted to food safety concerns and banned the slaughter of downed cows. No such federal regulation exists for pigs, so Calfornia passed its own law on the matter — much to the dismay of the National Meat Association (NMA) and the American Meat Institute (AMI), who promptly filed suit against the state arguing that California does not have the authority to legislate slaughterhouse practices. NMA and AMI won at the trial level, resulting in a ruling that barred the state of California from enforcing the law. However, the 9th Circuit overruled that decision, unanimously finding in favor of California and its authority to say what animals are able to be slaughtered for food.

The battle now continues at the Supreme Court level and several animal advocacy groups, such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Humane Society of the United States, and Farm Sanctuary, have intervened in the case to argue on behalf of the animals’ interests.

Under the pork industry groups’ logic, because the federal law does not ban sick and injured “non-ambulatory” animals from being slaughtered and sent into the food supply and California’s law does, the two laws are in conflict and the
federal law should prevail.

From where we stand, this is about the industry doing whatever it can to avoid being held accountable for this abusive – yet standard – practice, and trying to prevent a state from stepping in to help animals simply by arguing that if the federal law says nothing about protecting downers, the state should be powerless to step in and say something. Looks like it’s not the pigs who are playing dirty in this game.