Justice Kagan, in charge of the case, said that no state could impose different or additional regulations to the Federal Meat Inspection Act, and expressly pre-empted the law.
She added: “The clause prevents a state from imposing any additional or different – even if non-conflicting – requirements that fall within the scope of the Act and concern a slaughterhouse’s facilities or operations. And at every turn [the Californian law] imposes additional or different requirements on swine slaughterhouses: it compels them to deal with non-ambulatory pigs on their premises in ways that the Federal Act and regulations do not. In essence, California’s statute substitutes a new regulatory scheme for the one the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) uses.”
The National Meat Association (NMA), which brought the case to court, welcomed the decision. “We couldn’t be more pleased that the Supreme Court not only found in favour of our very clear and reasonable arguments, but that they did so unanimously,” said NMA CEO Barry Carpenter.
The Californian law on the treatment of animals that cannot walk was implemented after the Humane Society of the United States released undercover footage of sick and disabled cows being kicked, dragged and electrocuted by abattoir workers in 2008. “The video led the Federal Government to institute the largest beef recall in US history, in order to prevent consumption of meat from diseased animals,” Justice Kagan said.
As a result, California amended its penal code, forbidding slaughterhouses from buying, selling or receiving non-ambulatory animals. Additionally, the law stated: “No slaughterhouse shall process, butcher, or sell meat or products of non-ambulatory animals for human consumption. No slaughterhouse shall hold a non-ambulatory animal without taking immediate action to humanely euthanise the animal.”
The maximum penalty for breaching these regulations was one year in jail and a $20,000 fine.