HSUS leaders host briefing in support of California's downer livestock law


HSUS leaders host briefing in support of California's downer livestock law

Dec 01, 2011

Washington — The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and a number of other animal welfare groups are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a lawsuit filed by the National Meat Association that seeks to overturn a California law banning the killing and processing of "downer" livestock.

The decades-old California law being called out was amended and strengthened in 2008 in response to an investigation by HSUS at the Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino, Calif. The undercover video taken during the investigation depicted abuse of downed dairy cows while inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture were present. The video sparked public outrage.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law last year, agreeing with two other federal appeals courts in their opinion that states have the right to ban the slaughter of certain animals in the name of humane treatment.

Although USDA bans the processing of downed cattle, its rule does not apply to other livestock, and the agency has joined the meat association in its effort to overturn the California law.

The current California law states that slaughterhouse operators must remove any non-ambulatory animals from the herd and humanely euthanize them. Federal law states that animals lying down must be removed and inspected but does not prevent them from entering the food chain.

The National Meat Association's lawsuit argues that California does not have authority to impose its rules on slaughter plants, claiming the federal law is superior because it requires inspections of sick animals rather than automatic euthanization.

The first federal judge on the case agreed with the meat industry, prohibiting California from enforcing the law, which is still on hold pending a final outcome. The court of appeals later overturned the decision, and the matter was set to go before the Supreme Court Nov. 9.

"We've got an important case involving federal intervention here," HSUS Chief Executive Officer Wayne Pacelle said at a briefing on the case in Washington Nov. 1. "Even before the (Hallmark) case came to light and the very disturbing and distressing video, we had been campaigning for many years on this issue of how animals unable to walk would be handled."

It took public outcry and the nation's largest meat recall to prompt the creation of the federal rule banning the slaughter of downer cattle in 2009, Pacelle says. The Hallmark case resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds of recalled beef and a $12 million loss to the U.S. beef industry, he adds.