In 2009, the state of California introduced a law that would ban slaughterhouses from buying, selling, or butchering any livestock that is too sick or injured to walk. The law – which was reportedly inspired by undercover videos from the Humane Society featuring displays of animal abuse – orders immediate euthanization for the sick animals, and imposes a $20,000 fine or a year in prison for any who don’t comply. But this week, the United States Supreme Court chose to euthanize the very same law instead.
According to Reuters the Supreme Court was unanimous in its ruling, which fell in favor of the National Meat Association and overturned a previous appeals court ruling in favor of the California state law.
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The ruling seems to have nothing to do with the actual rights or wrongs of butchering and selling livestock that is too sick to stand. Rather, it’s one that is bound by the hierarchy of the law: Justice Elena Kagan stated that the California law “was preempted by a federal law that sets national standards for meat safety.” In short, meat inspection is a federal deal – as dictated by the Federal Meat Inspection Act since its enactment in 1906 – and it’s simply not the state of California’s place to supersede that.
So that’s a bummer. Especially considering the quality of meat that could be passing through the slaughterhouse system unimpeded – a Forbes piece points out that 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the United States are routinely fed controversial additives like ractopamine hydrochloride, which leave many animals sick or dead. So it seems clear: if higher state standards must be overturned, it’s up to federal standards to start getting tougher.