AVMA Attends Supreme Court Oral Arguments on Non-Ambulatory Livestock Case

Recently members of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division staff attended U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments concerning a California state law dealing with non-ambulatory livestock. (National Meat Association vs. Harris).

At issue is whether the Federal Meat Inspection Act pre-empts a California state statute that requires all non-ambulatory animals at packing plants be immediately euthanized. The California Legislature approved the law in 2008 after a video was released showing non-ambulatory, or “downer,” cows at a California beef packing plant being dragged and prodded to enter the processing line. A federal district court judge blocked the California law, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco last year overturned the lower court ruling.

The AVMA has a Disabled Livestock policy that addresses this issue. If an animal is down at a slaughterhouse or packing plant, the policy states that they “should be euthanatized immediately and not taken to slaughter. However, if swine are down, and are not in extreme distress or do not have an obviously irreversible condition, they may be allowed up to 2 hours to recover.”

The hour-long debate was filled with challenging questions by the judges to the lawyers from the National Meat Association (the petitioner) and the State of California (the respondent). A transcript of the arguments is available here. The Supreme Court has long ruled that interstate commerce is under federal jurisdiction, trumping any state efforts to regulate it. The Supreme Court has until June 2012, when its current term ends, to issue a ruling in the case.

For more information on this or other animal welfare topics, please go to http://www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/default.asp.

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