Meat groups win round in food safety case
Source of Article: http://www.fresnobee.com/local/story/1211604.html
Pigs unable to stand can be
slaughtered for human consumption, Fresno
federal judge rules.
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009
Pigs that can't stand up on their own may still be
butchered and their meat sold for human consumption despite a state law
designed to prevent that, a federal judge ruled Thursday in Fresno.
The law, which took effect Jan. 1, made it illegal for
anyone to butcher and sell animals too sick to stand. But slaughterhouses
argued that the law was too broad and caused meat from healthy animals to go
At issue was whether the state law could take
precedence over a 102-year-old federal law also designed to protect food
safety. U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill ruled that it couldn't.
In his 21-page ruling, O'Neill stopped the state from
enforcing the law against swine slaughterhouses.
The state legislation was approved last summer after
the largest beef recall in history. That recall came after the Humane Society
of the United States
secretly videotaped animal abuse at a Southern
California slaughterhouse -- including a man dragging sick cows
and shocking them.
But the National Meat Association and the American Meat
Institute challenged the law, saying federal law preempts state law.
O'Neill agreed, citing the 1907 Federal Meat Inspection
"The very purpose of the FIMA is to ensure the
safety of the nation's food supply and to minimize the risk to public health
from potentially dangerous food and drug products," O'Neill wrote.
American Meat Association spokeswoman Janet Riley
praised the decision.
"We do believe that the argument for federal
pre-emption is strong," Riley said. "It seems the judge is sending
a positive signal."
Riley said pigs can become stressed and fatigued,
especially after being moved. When they arrive at a processing plant, they
might not want to walk, but are not necessarily sick. If given a chance to
rest, they often walk, she said.
Under the state law, however, such pigs might be
euthanized and thrown away, which potentially could waste good meat. Federal
law, Riley said, already requires a veterinarian to be on site. That person
is required to examine pigs and determine their health.
The slaughter of sick or "downed" cattle is
already prohibited by federal law and was not part of the challenge.
State Attorney General Jerry Brown -- the lead
defendant in the case -- will consult with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's
office about "the appropriate next steps," spokesman Scott Gerber
said. The state could appeal O'Neill's decision.
Gerber said it is important to "take steps to
ensure that our food supply is safe."
Joining the state in support of the revamped law is the
Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Humane Farming Association, Farm Sanctuary
Inc., and the Humane Society of the United States. O'Neill last week
granted their request to intervene on the state's side.
Animal advocates think sick pigs may be entering the
food chain, and are also concerned that ruling's such as O'Neill will likely
derail the entire law.
John Harris, a west-side rancher and CEO and chairman
of Harris Farms, supports O'Neill's ruling, even though he is a cattleman and
doesn't deal with pigs.
"I think O'Neill did the right thing," Harris
said. "It is nice to have states' rights. It is an important tenet of
the Constitution. But on food safety, it should be federal pre-emption."
The legal battle isn't over. O'Neill's ruling is
preliminary. But if the state doesn't appeal the ruling, the National Meat
Association and the American Meat Institute will ask O'Neill to make it