On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a law allowing the state of California to ban the sale, transport, or purchase of cows and pigs unable to stand or walk on their own.

The law was first passed in 2008 after the Humane Society released a video depicting images of “downer” cows–cows that are unable to stand or walk without assistance–being kicked, electrocuted, dragged with chains, and rammed with forklifts at California’s Westland/Hallmark slaughterhouse. In addition to protesting against the inhumane animal treatment, California legislators argued that downed animals are more likely to harbor E. coli, Salmonella, and other germs which endanger millions of Americans every year. 

down-pig-featured.jpgBefore the law could take effect, however, a federal judge barred its enforcement at federally inspected swine slaughterhouses in the state of California because of a lawsuit brought by the National Meat Association (NMA) and the American Meat Institute (AMI).

The suit, National Meat Association v. Brown, alleged that although federal regulations prohibited the sale of meat from downer cattle, they permitted the sale of meat from pigs and other animals unless they demonstrated signs of certain diseases. This federal regulation, NMA lawyers said, preempted state authority over any aspect of slaughter and thus invalidated the California law.

Judges from the court of appeals called the argument “hogwash,” perhaps facetiously, and ruled 3-0 against the NMA.

“Regulating what kinds of animals may be slaughtered calls for a host of practical, moral and public health judgments that go far beyond those made in (federal regulation),” wrote Chief Judge Alex Kozinski. “These are the kinds of judgments reserved to the states, and nothing requests states to make them on a species-wide basis or not at all. Federal law regulates the meat inspection process; states are free to decide which animals may be turned into meat.”

The NMA, unhappy with the ruling, issued a press release yesterday voicing disagreement.

“The decision fails to address the huge distinction between animals–in this case swine in particular–that are fatigued by travel and are therefore at rest, from animals that are physically unable to stand up and move,” the statement said.

Barry Carpenter, CEO and President of NMA, will likely ask the full appeals court to review the ruling.

“NMA will discuss options with its associates and legal counsel,” he said. “This California law fails to distinguish between livestock at rest and livestock that have no independent mobility and that is a critical and potentially illegal failing for a state law that applies to animals on the premises of a USDA-inspected plant.”