In a unanimous opinion published on January 23, 2012, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and held that a California law prohibiting the sale, processing or holding of a nonambulatory animal was expressly preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA).
The case, National Meat Association v. Harris, dealt with Section 599f of the California Penal Code, which was enacted in 2008 in response to an undercover video released by the Humane Society showing workers in California kicking and electroshocking sick and disabled cows in an attempt to move the cows. The law makes it a crime for any slaughterhouse to “buy, sell or receive a nonambulatory animal,” or to “process, butcher or sell meat or products of nonambulatory animals for human consumption,” or “hold a nonambulatory animal without taking immediate action to humanely euthanize the animal.”
The National Meat Association (NMA) sued to enjoin enforcement of the law as applied to swine slaughterhouses and argued that the FMIA’s broad express preemption provision prohibited California from enacting distinct requirements for the handling of nonambulatory pigs. The FMIA and implementing regulations enacted by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) broadly regulate slaughterhouses to promote meat safety and humane treatment. With respect to the treatment of nonambulatory pigs, FSIS regulations permit slaughterhouses to hold and eventually sell nonambulatory animals, subject to a “post-mortem” examination.