California Law to Keep Injured Livestock Out of Food Supply Overturned by Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that a California law requiring "downer" livestock to be euthanized—intended to both promote animal welfare and keep sick animals out of the food supply—had overstepped the state's constitutional authority.

Food Safety News explains the law:

In 2009, California enacted a ban on selling or slaughtering downer, or lame animals unable to walk, in response to undercover footage showing animal handlers abusing cows -- forcefully dragging and forklifting non-ambulatory animals -- in a San Bernadino County slaughterhouse. The video, released by the Humane Society, sparked consumer outrage and led to the nation's largest-ever meat recall.

Non-ambulatory cows are at a higher risk for BSE, or mad cow disease. The packer caught prodding downed animals into slaughter had also been supplying the National School Lunch Program.

The California law, which the pork industry took to the Supreme Court, required meat processors to euthanize downed animals immediately and applied to pigs, goats, and sheep—unlike federal law, which prevents only downed cows from being slaughtered.

But there's no reason Michael Pollan's words about downed cows—"Whatever the risk, do you want to be eating meat from sick cows?"—do not extend to other animals.

A piece in The Los Angeles Times puts the law into context:

The questions of possibly tainted meat from potentially ailing animals -– pigs, cows, goats -- getting into the food chain was one of the confluent forces in the California law; the other was about animal cruelty. The public was horrified at a humane group’s video of cows that couldn’t walk being prodded and forced into the slaughterhouse to feed the American appetite for cheap and plentiful meat.

Federal Issue
The Federal Meat Inspection Act prohibits states from enacting laws that differ or are stricter than the federal law. But the Supreme Court ruling highlights the sad state of farming in the U.S. The one state that moved toward minimally reducing animal cruelty and promoting food safety is legally prevented from doing so.

Now no one, whether in California or the Midwest, can take assurances about the state of the animals that enter the food supply, that none of them were not so sick prior to slaughter that they physically could not walk.

Food Safety News explains more about the decision:

"The Supreme Court's ruling affirms the supremacy of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and USDA's role in regulating meat process plants," said NPPC President Doug Wolf, a hog farmer from Lancaster, WI. "It also recognized that non-ambulatory hogs with proper recovery time and veterinary oversight do not need to be condemned immediately in all cases."

Animal rights advocates argue that the California law would promote humane treatment and keep sick, weak animals out of the food supply. According to NMA, around 3 percent of pigs are non-ambulatory, or unable to walk, when they show up to the slaughterhouse.

Tags: Agriculture | Animal Welfare | Factory Farming

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