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California animal-slaughter law struck down; activists pin hopes on federal bill

The Supreme Court rejects the 2008 California law against slaughtering animals if they cannot walk on their own. Animal activists push for a federal law instead.

January 24, 2012|By David G. Savage and Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times
  • A 2008 video that showed workers at a California slaughterhouse dragging sick cows prompted stricter federal regulations that involve cattle but not pigs. Above, hogs in Auxvasse, Mo.
A 2008 video that showed workers at a California slaughterhouse dragging… (Jeff Roberson, Associated…)

Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles — Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a California law against slaughtering pigs and other animals unable to walk, activists are pressing forward with efforts to get a tough federal measure passed.

The 2008 state law had made it illegal for slaughterhouses in California to "receive a non-ambulatory animal." Any animal that could not stand on its own was to be returned to the farm or "humanely euthanized."

But the court's 9-0 decision Monday held that since Congress had already adopted its Federal Meat Inspection Act, California was not free to enforce differing rules or standards. Justice Elena Kagan wrote that "the California law runs smack into" the federal regulations.

The state measure was adopted shortly after an undercover video in 2008 showed workers at a California slaughterhouse dragging sick and disabled cows. It led the federal government to institute the largest beef recall in U.S. history and prompted stricter federal regulations involving cattle. But the federal laws did not include pigs.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored the state bill, said the group's hope rested on a federal bill, HR 3704. The measure was introduced in Congress in mid-December and is being considered by the House Agriculture Committee.

"This ruling places the matter squarely in the Congress and USDA to take meaningful action to protect animals unable to walk, and prevent the food safety threats that arise from these animals," Pacelle said. "But it's a very tall hill to climb because of the power of the meat industry in D.C."

The National Meat Assn., which represents pork producers, cheered the court decision.

"We need to have one law for the nation," spokesman Jeremy Russell said. "In California, companies would have had to find some way to exclude animals who were going to become fatigued. It was sort of an impossible situation."

Lesa Carlton of the California Pork Producers Assn. said if the law had stuck, it would have placed California pork producers at a severe disadvantage. She said that the state ranks about 29th in pork production and that any additional burden would have compromised its ability to compete in the market.

The Supreme Court's attention Monday was primarily on pigs, but the ruling also allows the slaughter of sheep, goats and veal calves that cannot walk.

The California attorney general's office said it had no comment on the ruling.

david.savage@latimes.com

matthew.stevens@latimes.com

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