Supreme Court rejects California anti-animal cruelty law on pigs


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The Supreme Court has struck down an anti-animal cruelty law from California that sought to prevent sick or wobbly pigs from being sent into slaughterhouses, ruling that federal regulation already requires careful inspections of such animals.

The 9-0 decision on Monday held that since Congress has adopted federal regulations governing slaughterhouses, California is not free to enforce different rules or standards. The justices noted that Congress said states may not adopt slaughterhouse rules that were “in addition to or different from” the federal standards.


The ruling was a victory for the National Meat Assn., which represents pork producers. It is a setback for the Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored the California law.

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. It also led to stricter federal regulations involving cattle, but not pigs.

The California measure made it illegal for a slaughterhouse to “receive a non-ambulatory animal.” Any such animals were to be returned to the farm or “humanely euthanized.”

The National Meat Assn. sued, arguing the California regulation was pre-empted by the federal regulations.

The Supreme Court agreed. “The federal law establishes rules for handling and slaughtering non-ambulatory pigs brought to a slaughterhouse, rather than ordering them returned to sender,” said Justice Elena Kagan.

She said the federal regulations require inspectors to examine animals to check for disease or injury. They prescribe “methods for handling animals humanely at all stages of the slaughtering process,” she added. California cannot “endeavor to regulate the same thing, at the same time, in the same place -- except by imposing different requirements.”



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-- David G. Savage in Washington, D.C.