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AMI Seeks Declaratory and Injunctive Relief Against California Law That is Preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

(American Meat Institute)

The American Meat Institute (AMI) today filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed this week in California that seeks to block enforcement of state law banning any species of non-ambulatory livestock at federally-inspected meat packing plants.

 The original lawsuit was brought yesterday by the National Meat Association (NMA) in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.  NMA’s lawsuit focuses on the state law’s application to hogs.  In its motion to intervene, AMI is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief more broadly, arguing that the state law is preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) when applied to other livestock processed in a federal meat plant.

In its motion to intervene, AMI argued that the new state law, which becomes effective January 1, 2009, imposes requirements that are different than and in addition to the FMIA requirements imposed by USDA in federally inspected establishments.    

In July 2008, the State of California amended Section 599f of the state penal code, which prescribes certain behavior with respect to handling non-ambulatory livestock, and the meat derived from such livestock, at slaughterhouses, and other places.  The amended code, says 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. This veterinary judgment is a critical element in ensuring that only livestock processed in an inspected establishment provides meat that is fit for human consumption.   

 In addition, on some occasions all species 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 these livestock and requiring blanket condemnation of this class of animals is not only illegal, according to AMI, but a waste of livestock that could provide wholesome meat products.

Also in direct conflict with the FMIA is a provision in the state law that provides for criminal penalties against a plant that accepts non-ambulatory livestock, even if those livestock are non-ambulatory and 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,” AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said.  “It is essential that the expert judgment of veterinarians in evaluating the health of livestock be maintained.”

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