Could the U.S. Supreme Court Unwittingly Decide the Fate of Horse Slaughter?

Next Wednesday (November 9, 2011) the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a case where the main issue is States’ rights to impose their own regulations on federally-inspected slaughterhouses. The case is National Meat Association v. Harris (Docket No. 10-244). Though the case involves swine instead of horses, the Court’s decision might ultimately affect the horse slaughter debate currently being waged in Congress.

The issue before the Court is whether a state law in California requiring all slaughterhouses to “immediately euthanize” any nonambulatory animal on its premises is preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The National Meat case deals with a California law governing slaughterhouses in that state that was passed in 2008, after the Humane Society of the United States released a video of so-called “downer cows” being pushed with a forklift, kicked, electrocuted, and dragged with chains at a slaughterhouse.

If the Court ultimately finds that California (and, presumably, all other states) can impose its own regulations on slaughterhouses to which the FMIA applies within their respective states, this might ultimately affect the current battle over horse slaughter being waged in the United States. An interesting question raised by this case, in my mind, is this:

What if one or more states were to enact laws that made illegal the so-called 'evils' of slaughter that opponents of horse processing find so unsavory? Would the opponents of horse slaughter be opposed to the humane processing of horses in those states?"

It’s an interesting question, and I’m torn. While I generally don’t like to see new red tape and new regulations unduly imposed on any industry, I tend to think that most issues such as this are best dealt with on the state level. If the Supreme Court finds that states can, in fact, impose their own laws on federally-inspected slaughterhouses, I am somewhat encouraged that this might ultimately provide vehicle whereby a “win-win” resolution of the horse slaughter battle may be reached.  If humane horse slaughter can be reintroduced in the United States, many horse industry groups believe that that this would have a positive economic impact on the overall horse industry.

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Jana Caldwell - November 2, 2011 9:53 AM

You need to read my grant proposal to the Morris Animal Foundation on the "Unwanted Horse Issue". Specifically, the part that concerns the USDA investigation into inhumane treatment of horses at US plants or holding facilities. This information was released to the public after groups utilized the Freedom of Information Act. Horse processing will never be a wholesome and humane practice. Inhumane treatment is inherent to that type of industry. Horses that can walk in the kill chute may still have heads beat up so bad or an eye knocked out that they can't see. This or other physical abuse will not stop. What I don't understand is how blind people are to the source of the problem. There are too many horses to start with and not enough resources to take care of them. Horse slaughter gives the horse industry an easy disposal method for those that don't meet certain criteria so mass breeding continues. Who is responsible for the large numbers of unwanted horses ending up in slaughterhouses? It's hard to say....backyard breeders, large commercial breeders, or the 1-2 horse owners who just can't afford to keep them? Regardless of who the largest contributor is, is it so unconceivable to expect accountability from their end? State regulation shouldn't be an issue regarding horse processing because it shouldn't be allowed to exist. The efforts should be put into enacting laws preventing the transport of US horses across our borders to slaughter and to initiate incentives not to breed.

Alison Rowe - November 2, 2011 10:26 AM

Thanks for your comment. You raise some good points. People definitely don't need to be breeding horses if they don't have the resources to care for them. But how do we regulate them if we're already having problems preventing abuse at federally-inspected slaughterhouses through regulations? The SPCA and other organizations have been trying to incentivize spay/neuter and educational programs for decades, but human nature being what it is, we still have a big problem with unwanted dogs and cats. One idea is to place stricter rules on registration. For some breeds of horses, the horse cannot be registered until the breed registry does a physical inspection to make sure the horse meets the breed criteria. If you know of some practical ideas on how we incentivize people to quit breeding undesirable horses that they can't sell or take care of, please post!

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