U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Overturns California Slaughterhouse Regulations on Downer Pigs


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a federal slaughterhouse statute pre-empts a California law barring the sale of meat from downer pigs.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion (PDF) for the unanimous court finding that the Federal Meat Inspection Act pre-empts California’s downer regulations. The FMIA has an express pre-emption provision that “sweeps widely” and blocks the California provisions, she wrote.

California requires immediate euthanization of “nonambulatory” pigs and bars their slaughter. Federal law, on the other hand, puts downer swine into a category of “suspect” animals that must be set apart, monitored and slaughtered separately. A federal inspector then determines whether the meat can be sold.

“The FMIA regulates slaughterhouses’ handling and treatment of nonambulatory pigs from the moment of their delivery through the end of the meat production process,” Kagan wrote. “California’s [law] endeavors to regulate the same thing, at the same time, in the same place—except by imposing different requirements. The FMIA expressly pre-empts such a state law.”

The decision overturns a ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Humane Society of the United States intervened in the case to defend the statute. In a statement, its president, Wayne Pacelle, expressed his disappointment. “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,” he said.

The case is National Meat Association v. Harris.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Justices Appear Ready to Overturn California Law Keeping Downer Animals Off the Menu”

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