On Christmas Eve, the American Meat Institute filed a motion to broaden a National Meat Association lawsuit regarding non-ambulatory livestock slaughter in California. The lawsuit is an attempt to halt the enforcement of state law that would ban the slaughter of any non-ambulatory livestock (and dairy) species at federally inspected packing plants.
NMA brought the lawsuit earlier in the week to focus on the state law's application to hogs. In its motion to intervene, AMI is seeking broader injunctive and declaratory relief, arguing that the state law is preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act when applied to other livestock processed in a federally inspected meat plant.
In its motion to intervene, AMI argued that the new state law, which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2009, imposes requirements that are different than and in addition to the FMIA requirements that USDA already imposes in federally inspected establishments.
In July 2008, the State of California amended its penal code to say that "[N]o slaughterhouse… shall buy, sell, or receive a non-ambulatory animal. [N]o slaughterhouse shall process, butcher, or sell meat or products of non-ambulatory animals for human consumption" and further that "[N]o slaughterhouse shall hold a non-ambulatory animal without taking immediate action to euthanize the animal." The livestock affected includes cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats.
Currently, only ambulatory cattle are eligible to be inspected and processed at federally inspected plants. However, federal veterinarians stationed at all meat packing plants determine whether all other species of non-ambulatory livestock are fit for consumption, reports Meatingplace.com. The point behind this is that veterinary judgment is a critical element in ensuring that only livestock processed in an inspected plant provides meat for human consumption, according to AMI.
Also, any animal can become injured even until the last minutes before processing, but an injury like a broken ankle does not automatically make livestock unfit for consumption. Preventing veterinarians from evaluating the health of such livestock and requiring blanket condemnation of such animals is not only illegal, according to AMI, but a waste of livestock that could provide wholesome meat products.
In the specific case of hogs, they can appear exhausted following transport, only to fully recover if allowed a 30-minute rest.
Also in direct conflict with FMIA, according to AMI, is a provision in the state law that allows criminal penalties against a plant that accepts non-ambulatory livestock, even if those livestock could recover with rest time.
"AMI is seeking to intervene in order to assert the longstanding view shared by both the Institute and USDA that federal preemption over state laws applies to all products produced at federally inspected plants," says AMI President J. Patrick Boyle. "It is essential that the veterinarian's expert judgment in evaluating livestock health be maintained."