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California’s Chino Law Makes It to Supremes

After the Chino slaughterhouse was caught on video kicking, dragging, shocking and ramming nonambulatory cows, the California Legislature responded by making it illegal for the meat industry to butcher so called “downer” animals.

The National Meat Association (NMA) went to court, challenging that law and gaining an injunction against its enforcement from a trial court judge. Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the injunction.

The Chino slaughterhouse video — shot by an undercover operative from the Humane Society of the United States — was released in January 2009. It led to the largest beef recall in the U.S. history from a  meat packer who was, at the time, the second largest supplier to the National School Lunch program.

Now, however, as it does with so many Ninth District rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will take up the case during its next term, which begins on the first Monday in October.

In its 2010 opinion, the Ninth District recognized the food safety rationale behind the new California law, saying; “Public health professionals warned that meat from these ‘downer’ cows was more likely to be diseased, 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.”

“Stressed” downer cattle have also been shown to be more likely to carrying pathogens dangerous to humans if they are transferred to the food supply.

The California law, officially referred to as California Penal Code § 599f, includes the following provisions: 

  • No slaughterhouse, stockyard, auction, market agency, or dealer shall buy, sell, or receive a nonambulatory animal.

  • No slaughterhouse shall process, butcher, or sell meat or products of nonambulatory animals for human consumption.

  • No slaughterhouse shall hold a nonambulatory animal without taking immediate action to humanely euthanize the animal.

  • While in transit or on the premises of a stockyard, auction, market agency, dealer, or slaughter house, a nonambulatory animal may not be dragged at any time, or pushed with equipment at any time, but shall be moved with a sling or on a stoneboat or other sled-like or wheeled conveyance.

The Oakland, CA-based National Meat Association said it was “pleased” to be getting Supreme Court review of the case now called NMA v. Harris. (It was previously named NMA v Brown, for now Gov. Jerry Brown, who was then California’s attorney general and responsible for defending the state’s laws in federal courts. Kamala D. Harris succeeded Brown as attorney general in January.)

“This is an important case regarding the application of the clear preemption provisions of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which were disregarded by the Court of Appeals,” the association said in a statement.

“NMA is seeking injunctive relief against section 599f of California law, which would eliminate the ability of Federal inspectors to conduct ante-mortem inspections of non-ambulatory swine.

“The Supreme Court has followed a particularly careful approach in granting NMA’s petition for review. The Court decided only after requesting and obtaining the views of the Solicitor General of the United States, who advised the Court that the Ninth Circuit’s decision was in error. NMA looks forward to the Court’s review of this important question.”

NMA is a non-profit trade association. It has represented meat packers and processors, equipment manufacturers and food suppliers who provide services to the meat industry since 1946. The association has members throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, Australia and Mexico.

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