Opinion: The Supreme Court and the slaughterhouse

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Could Southern California Republican congressman Elton Gallegly please step in, and make one of his last acts in Congress a humane one –- one more time?

The Supreme Court just threw out a California law, saying the state overstepped its constitutional authority when it ordered changes in how slaughterhouses euthanize pigs and cows and goats who can’t walk into the slaughterhouse chute.


It’s a complicated matter, and the justices ruled unanimously on the constitutional question that state law can’t be stricter than federal law in some matters. They didn’t rule on the humane issues or food safety questions, two of the matters that prompted California’s law. The pork industry took California to court, and won.

The questions of possibly tainted meat from potentially ailing animals -– pigs, cows, goats -- getting into the food chain was one of the confluent forces in the California law; the other was about animal cruelty. The public was horrified at a humane group’s video of cows that couldn’t walk being prodded and forced into the slaughterhouse to feed the American appetite for cheap and plentiful meat.

Gallegly stepped in once before on an animal welfare issue. The Supreme Court had ruled that a law banning the sale of animal cruelty videos violated free speech rules.

That law had originated in a ban on ‘crush videos,’ showing little creatures getting stomped to death by women, which evidently feed some creepy niche sexual thrill.

Gallegly, who is retiring from Congress, became a hero to animal groups for crafting a new law, along with some of his colleagues, that met those constitutional requirements for banning those so-called crush videos.

President Obama signed the law. Justice Samuel Alito, in perhaps a rare moment of agreement with the president, had dissented in the Supreme Court animal-cruelty video case.


In his opinion, Alito quoted from a Humane Society brief in describing this cruelty porn.

Warning -– this is very rough reading, so stop right here if you can’t deal with it:

[A] kitten, secured to the ground, watches and shrieks in pain as a woman thrusts her high-heeled shoe into its body, slams her heel into the kitten’s eye socket and mouth loudly fracturing its skull, and stomps repeatedly on the animal’s head. The kitten hemorrhages blood, screams blindly in pain, and is ultimately left dead in a moist pile of blood-soaked hair and bone.

Alito also wrote of the ‘criminal conduct’ in the dog-fighting videos that brought the case to the Supreme Court, saying, ‘The videos record the commissions of violent criminal acts, and it appears that these crimes are committed for the sole purpose of creating the videos.’

Another law that also meets constitutional muster could address the slaughterhouse animal treatment issue. Beyond that, the Agriculture Department could be a lot more vigorous in pursuing this as a safety issue of ‘downer’ animal meat in the public food supply.

The ultimate answer to any of these practices that occur in the course of slaughtering billions of animals, whether on family farms or by ritual killing techniques or in mega-slaughterhouses, is also perhaps the best chance of survival of our species too.

It’s a move toward a vegetarian diet. Meat protein generally consumes more land and water and energy than vegetable protein, and all of those -– land, water and energy -– are going to be scarcer and more expensive in the decades to come.

Because we humans feel pretty helpless to do anything to change the world by our lonesomes, I once asked Jane Goodall what was the single thing that one individual could do to make the biggest impact on the planet and the prospect of human survival, and she said, ‘Stop eating meat.’


Until we do, isn’t it the least we can do to treat with respect and consideration these animals we kill by the billions in order to feed ourselves?


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