U.S. Supreme Court says States Cannot Regulate Activities at Slaughter Plants

On January 23, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that while states may be able to enact laws banning the slaughter of horses, states cannot impose their own laws governing how animals are handled and processed at federally-regulated slaughterhouses.   A link to the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion can be found here.

This opinion was handed down in National Meat Association v. Harris, the “pig case” I discussed back in November 2011 when the case was in the oral arguments phase. This prior post discussed that case’s possible indirect effects on the horse slaughter debate:

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

Photo:  Punxsutawney Phil declared today that winter is far from over.

 

In a nutshell, the Court held in Harris that 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) because the FMIA regulates slaughterhouses’ handling and treatment of animals upon their arrival at a slaughterhouse. 

The Court was not persuaded by the argument that the treatment of nonambulatory pigs could be regulated by states because the Fifth and Ninth Circuits have upheld state laws banning the slaughter of horses. The court made clear that the FMIA applies to a broad range of activities at slaughterhouses, but it does not address the specific species of animals that are allowed to be processed in the first place. With respect to the federal circuit cases upholding state bans on horse slaughter, Justice Kagan, speaking for the Court, stated:

We express no view on those decisions, except to say that the laws sustained there differ from [the California law requiring the immediate euthanization of nonambulatory animals] in a significant respect…Unlike a horse slaughtering ban, the statute thus reaches into the slaughterhouse’s facilities and affects its daily activities. And in so doing, the California law runs smack into the FMIA’s regulations. So whatever might be said of other bans on slaughter, [the challenged California law] imposes requirements within—and indeed at the very heart of—the FMIA’s scope.”

The question I posed in my prior post about Harris was:

“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?"

The answer to this question, per the Court’s ultimate opinion in Harris, is “it doesn’t matter now, because it is now clear that states cannot make their own laws governing how animals are handled at slaughterhouses that are governed by the FMIA.”

Also, we can now assume that if the processing of horse meat for human consumption is to be resumed in any state where it is still legal under state law, FMIA regulations (and not any regulations that the states may attempt to promulgate) will govern how horses are handled and processed in those states.

For another take on the Harris case and its possible effects on horse slaughter, see the following post by Milt Toby on Horses and the Law:

Horses and Cattle and Pigs, Oh My

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Are You On the List of Horse Haters?

The issue of horse slaughter is on my mind today after reading a news story about the introduction of a U.S. Senate bill proposing the recommencement of horse meat inspection funding.  That's when I poked around on the Internet a bit and found the "Haters List".

In case you haven't seen it, the blog Wild Horse Haters & Horse Slaughter Promoters published a lengthy list of horse hatin’ people and groups (i.e. opponents of the horse slaughter ban in the U.S., according to the blog's publishers) so that the public can boycott them, their members, and their services.

A link to the Haters List can be found here.  The Haters List includes the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and just about every major U.S. horse association, cattle association, and farm association.

Note:  the publisher(s) of the Haters List and the blog on which is appears remain(s) anonymous.

I am a life member of two associations on the Haters List: the American Paint Horse Association and the American Quarter Horse Association.  What about you?

Milt Toby, a colleague of mine in Kentucky, did a blog post a while ago about how the issue of horse slaughter has a way of dividing people. But can we draw general lines to determine who, in general, is in favor of laws allowing for the processing of horse meat in the U.S. versus who is against such laws? 

Upon review of the Haters List, it would seem to me that in general, those who support humane horse processing in the United States are those who, either directly or indirectly, are in the horse business.  This includes the AAEP, a national group of equine veterinarians whose mission includes "meticulous concern for the health and welfare of the horse". 

There are of course others who support horse processing in the U.S. who aren’t directly or indirectly in the horse business. One example is Fort Worth Star Telegram journalist Bob Ray Sanders.  Mr. Sanders’s recent editorial entitled “Congress Should Revisit Ban on Horse Slaughter” cites evidence from the recent Government Accountability Office report.

And surely there are some in the “horse business” who are in favor of government bans on processing horse meat in the U.S.

But assuming the Haters List is correct, it tells us a lot about where the “line in the sand” is drawn. The Haters List seems to indicate that, in general, most horse businesses and equine veterinarians are in favor of humane horse processing in the United States. Do you agree with this assessment? 

While you ponder this poignant question, I’ll leave you with a quote from Milt Toby’s blog this week:

I think the world would be a better place if horses were not being slaughtered for food anywhere.  I think the same thing about cows and pigs and sheep and chickens and tuna and salmon, and I think it’s logically and morally inconsistent to categorically oppose one without opposing all.  And no, I’m not a vegan."

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**19 SEP 2011 Clarification:  Out of all of my readers, only two individuals read this post and thought that I agreed with the publishers of the "Haters List" and that I don't believe that any animals should be processed for meat.  Although most people "got" where I was coming from on this issue, this alterted me to the fact that I may need to clarify some things.  I was "poking fun", tongue in cheek, at the anonymous publishers of the "Haters List" because I feel that their methods greatly reduce their credibility.  I was also asking if anyone agreed with me that it seems that most equine vets and most people who are in the horse business support humane processing.  As far as Milt Toby's quote goes, I read it as saying that Milt believes you can't categorically oppose humane horse slaughter unless you also oppose the humane slaughter of other animals.**