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March 31, 2010

Federal Appeals Court Reinstates California Law Banning Sick and Disabled Animals from the Food Supply

Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a California law banning the use of sick and disabled ("downed") animals in the human food supply. Last year, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the law as a result of a lawsuit brought by the National Meat Association and the American Meat Institute.

The trade groups wanted to continue to use downed animals in the human food supply despite a series of recent high profile scandals concerning downed animal abuse in the meat industry. The Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund intervened in the lawsuit in 2009.

"This is a major victory for both animals and consumers, and a stunning defeat for meat industry groups seeking to profit from the sale of diseased and disabled farm animals," said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association.

California's downed animal protection law was amended and strengthened in 2008 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. The revised law was designed to prevent the abuses at Hallmark/Westland from ever happening again.

"We are delighted the Court of Appeals has affirmed California's undeniable right to keep sick, injured, and abused animals out of the food supply," said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States. "We hope the Court's stinging rebuke will convince the plaintiffs to abandon this misguided effort to recreate another Hallmark-type food safety disaster in the State of California."

Downed cattle are more likely to be infected with BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow disease." Studies suggest animals too sick or injured to stand and walk may also be more likely to harbor E. coli and Salmonella, which kill hundreds of Americans every year. 

Writing for the Court, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski pointed out that public health professionals are rightly concerned about the risks from downed cows "partly because animals can become nonambulatory due to disease and partly because downer animals grow sicker as they end up rolling around in other animals' refuse."

"The abuse of living, breathing, feeling animals who are too sick, injured and weak to stand is incongruent with Californians' values of mercy and compassion," said Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur. "We applaud the Court for refusing to protect the interests of big agribusiness at the expense of the American people and the animals entrusted to our care."

"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," stated Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The suit is National Meat Association v. Brown, No. 09-15483.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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