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February 20, 2009

Calif. Court Grants Meat Industry Request to Allow Sick, Disabled Animals into Food Supply

California Food Safety Law Enacted in Wake of Hallmark Meat Recall Put on Hold

The Humane Society of the United States

Friday, The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association and the Animal Legal Defense Fund criticized a ruling by a federal judge in Fresno, Calif. that temporarily stops the state from enforcing key provisions of California's newly upgraded law banning the use of sick and disabled animals in the food supply.

The order prevents any portion of the law from being applied to pig slaughter plants and could set a precedent for other farm animal processors seeking to skirt food safety laws and put meat from other sick and injured animals, including cattle, into the public food supply. The animal protection groups intend to appeal the decision, and are urging the State Attorney General to do so as well.

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 by legislation authored by Assemblymember Paul Krekorian in response to an HSUS investigation that exposed torment and horrific abuse of downed 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. Federal law still allows some downed cattle and other sick and suffering animals to enter the food supply, and the state statute was designed to address this loophole and prevent the abuses this gap in federal law facilitated at Hallmark/Westland from ever happening again in California.

"The plaintiffs' reckless actions in this case should be a wake-up call to the public that the slaughter industry is prepared to subvert state laws designed to help animals and protect food safety," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. "If the federal government drags its feet on proper regulatory oversight because of political pressure by the meat industry, the states should not be forced to stand idly by while animals are abused and the quality of our food threatened."

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.

"We are deeply disappointed that the court in Fresno has tied the state's hands from taking responsible action to prevent another inhumane and food safety tragedy like Hallmark from ever occurring again in California," said Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, which was instrumental in the passage of the original statute.

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. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice rejected requests to reconsider those rulings.

"This challenge to California law is a stunning example of the meat industry's utter disregard for animal suffering and public safety. We are confident that this vitally important law will ultimately be upheld," 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 used for food 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.

"This troubling decision conflicts with two federal court of appeals decisions allowing states to regulate which animals can enter the food supply, and a prompt appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is likely," 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.

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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 

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