In a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) expressly preempts a California law that dictated slaughterhouses must reject non-ambulatory pigs.
The California law, section 599f of the California state penal code, prohibited slaughterhouse purchase or sale any non-ambulatory livestock and prohibited the processing of meat from non-ambulatory livestock for human food. This law was adopted in 2008 after the Humane Society released an undercover video showing workers at a Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. slaughterhouse in California dragging, kicking, and electro- shocking sick and disabled cows in an effort to move them. The video led the federal government to institute the largest beef recall in U. S. history in order to prevent consumption of meat from diseased animals.
First enacted in 1906, the FMIA was amended in 1978 to require all slaughterhouses comply with the standards for humane handling and slaughter of animals set out in the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 (72 Stat. 862, 7 U.S.C. §1901 et seq.). The FMIA express preempts state laws “with respect to premises, facilities and operations of any establishment at which inspection is provided under . . . this [FMIA] which are in addition to, or different than those made under [FMIA]” (21 U. S. C. § 678).
“The FMIA’s preemption clause sweeps widely—and in so doing, blocks the applications of §599f challenged here. 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 §599f imposes additional or different requirements on swine slaughterhouses: It compels them to deal with nonambulatory 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 FSIS uses. Where under federal law a slaughterhouse may take one course of action in handling a nonambulatory pig, under state law the slaughterhouse must take another.” 565 U. S. ____ (2012).
Neal Fortin is the author of Food Regulation: Law, Science, Policy, and Practice, and he is Professor and Director of the Michigan State University Institute for Food Laws and Regulations, where he teaches online courses in Food Regulation in the United States, International Food Law, and Codex Alimentarius.