January 27, 2009
Meat Industry Seeks to Overturn Calif. Law Barring Sick, Disabled Farm Animals from Food Supply
Humane Groups Move to Defend Critical Food Safety and Humane Regulations
Today, The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association and the Animal Legal Defense Fund moved to intervene in a meat industry lawsuit that seeks to overturn key provisions of California's newly upgraded law banning the use of sick and disabled animals in the food supply. The amended law, introduced as A.B. 2098 by Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, took effect Jan. 1.
The suit, brought by the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute — two trade groups representing major packing and slaughter plant companies — takes aim at a statute that originally went into effect in the 1990s, and was then amended last year in response to an HSUS investigation that exposed torment and horrific abuse of downer cows at a southern California slaughter plant. The Hallmark/Westland plant, based in Chino, was the nation's number-two supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program.
"This misguided effort to overturn state law seeking to stop the torment of animals and to protect food safety shows more than ever that we cannot trust the meat-packing industry and its trade associations," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation and research for The HSUS. "This arrogant attitude towards public safety is precisely why we need strong legal standards and vigorous enforcement at both the state and federal level."
The scandal over the abuse of dairy cows at Hallmark exposed major gaps in food safety and humane handling, prompted the largest meat recall in U.S. history and probably cost the meat industry and the federal government more than $1 billion.
According to the meat industry groups' papers, they believe California lacks the authority to protect school children from the human form of mad cow disease and other foodborne illnesses, or to prevent wanton cruelty to farm animals. However, two federal appeals courts have already ruled that states have the authority to ban the slaughter of certain animals where it is contrary to the state's interest in preserving public morals and protecting public health. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice rejected requests to reconsider those rulings.
"Animals who are too sick to stand should never be allowed to enter the human food supply," stated Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, which was instrumental in the passage of the original statute. "The lack of concern for public health and the complete disregard for these suffering animals demonstrates pure greed on the part of the meat-packing industry. California's downed animal law is appropriate and sensible, and it should be upheld by the court."
The industry suit claims the law is unnecessary because some downed animals can regain the ability to walk and "could recover with rest time" or be "assisted" into the slaughter plant. But as HSUS' undercover Hallmark investigation revealed, such assistance has included shocking helpless animals repeatedly, prodding them in the eyes, dragging them with chains and ramming them with forklifts.
"This challenge to California law is a stunning example of the meat industry's utter disregard for animal suffering and public safety. The industry apparently believes it has the right to continue perpetuating animal cruelty and endangering public health. We are confident that the courts will uphold California's right to prohibit the irresponsible and hazardous marketing of meat from diseased and disabled farm animals," said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, which was instrumental in the passage of A.B. 2098 last year.
Downed cattle are more likely to be infected with BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow disease." Studies suggest animals who are too sick or injured to stand and walk may be more likely to harbor foodborne bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella, which kill hundreds of Americans every year.
"The writing is on the wall for factory farming operations that continue to subject animals to appalling abuses despite increased consumer calls for less cruel farming methods — and increased recognition by the courts that animals have interests that should be protected by the law," said Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
The suit, National Meat Association v. Brown, No. 1:08-cv-01963-LJO-DLB, is pending before a federal district court in Fresno, Calif.
The Humane Society of the United States – humanesociety.org
Farm Sanctuary - farmsanctuary.org
The Humane Farming Association - hfa.org
The Animal Legal Defense Fund - aldf.org