Wednesday, March 31, 2010

National Meat Ass'n v. Brown (9th Cir. - March 31, 2010)

Remember that Humane Society video from 2008 that showed "downer" cows -- cows unable to stand or walk without assistance -- being kicked, electrocuted, dragged with chains and rammed with forklifts at a California slaughterhouse? It's pretty shocking. And also led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history.

Given that backdrop, the National Meat Association's pending lawsuit against the State of California -- which (after the video) passed a statute to ban the killing of downer pigs -- isn't exactly the most sympathetic action in the universe. Sure, they've got a preemption claim, arguing that since the pig slaughterhouses here are federally inspected, they should be allowed to do what they want. Even if that means killing pigs who can't walk, potentially diseased, and are rolling around in other animal's filth. Still tastes good as bacon, right?

The Meat Association is able to convince the Eastern District of California, which granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of the California statute. But not the Ninth Circuit. Which vacates the injunction. Holding:

"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 the FMIA. These are the kinds of judgments reserved to the states, and nothing in the FMIA requires 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."

Since it's a Chief Judge Kozinski opinion, it's also got your usual asides. Including this one:

"The district court sought to distinguish Cavel and Empacadora: 'A nonambulatory pig is not a ‘type of meat.’ A pig is a pig. A pig that is laying down is a pig. A pig with three legs is a pig. A fatigued or diseased pig is a pig. Calling it something else does not change the type of meat produced.' In effect, the district court reasoned that states may ban the slaughter of certain species, but once a state allows a species to be slaughtered, it cannot impose further restrictions. Hogwash."

A knee-slapper, to be sure.