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Supreme Court To Decide Whether Meatpackers Can Use Sick, Injured Animals in the Food Supply

The Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of animal welfare groups asked the United States Supreme Court to reject a meat industry lawsuit seeking to overturn a 2008 California law that prohibits slaughterhouses, stockyards, auctions or dealers from buying, selling or receiving animals too disabled to walk and also prohibits slaughterhouses from killing or processing these “downed” animals. In addition to The HSUS, the brief filed today was signed by Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Farming Association and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The California law at issue was amended and strengthened in 2008 in response to The HSUS’ investigation at the Hallmark slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., which exposed horrific abuse of downed dairy cows. The abuse – which included the electrical prodding of anguished prone cows in the face and eyes, dragging downed cows with chains and ramming them with forklifts, shocking helpless animals repeatedly, beating them and even shooting high-pressure hoses up their nostrils – all occurred while USDA inspectors were on duty at the plant.

The Ninth Circuit upheld the law last year, joining two other federal appeals courts in holding that states have the authority to ban the slaughter of certain animals where it is contrary to the state’s interest in ensuring the humane treatment of animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has joined the meat industry in seeking to overturn California’s ban on putting downers in the food supply, even though USDA itself prohibits the processing of downed cattle at slaughter plants. The federal ban on downers applies to cattle, but not to downed pigs or other livestock. However, USDA refuses to buy meat from any type of downed animal for its own national school lunch program.

“Candidate Obama campaigned on this issue in Iowa when the Hallmark cruelty and food-safety risks came to light in early 2008, and as president, he signed a federal no-downer rule for cattle because of our investigation,” added Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Now this administration is backpedalling, and it’s linked arms with the meat industry on a vital case before the U.S. Supreme Court that has enormous animal welfare and food safety implications. We are dumbfounded by this retreat.”

Major pork producers like Hormel have a history of mistreating downed pigs, often while USDA inspectors are present. At one Los Angeles County-based facility owned by Clougherty/Farmer John, which is a subsidiary of Hormel, public reports reveal that USDA inspectors witnessed conscious pigs being dragged from trailers, dropped from bone-breaking heights and crushed by semi-trucks. In one instance downed pigs were left languishing indefinitely in facility alleyways with no access to water, while company personnel argued to USDA inspectors that they had no obligation to even provide these pigs with drinking water.

The suit is National Meat Association v. Harris, No. 10-224.


Media Contact: Anna West: 301-258-1518; awest@humanesociety.org