Supreme Court overturns California slaughterhouse law

WASHINGTON Mon Jan 23, 2012 5:40pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court struck down on Monday a California law that requires slaughterhouses to immediately euthanize animals that cannot walk, ruling that federal meat safety and inspection law takes precedence.

The justices unanimously ruled for an industry trade group,

the National Meat Association, that sued to block enforcement of the California state law. The justices overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that the state law could be enforced.

Justice Elena Kagan said the 2009 California law was preempted by a federal law that sets national standards for meat safety and gives federal inspectors at slaughterhouses the final word on what to do about livestock too sick to stand up.

The state law was adopted after the Humane Society of the United States released an undercover video showing workers abusing nonambulatory cattle at a slaughterhouse in southern California.

The state law bans slaughterhouses from buying, butchering or selling nonambulatory livestock for human consumption and calls for their immediate euthanization. It provides for up to one year in prison and a $20,000 fine for any violation.

The Federal Meat Inspection Act provides for a federal inspector to determine whether a nonambulatory animal is fit for human consumption. A provision in it bars states from imposing requirements on slaughterhouses in addition to federal ones.

The federal government supported the meat processors trade group and argued the California law was preempted by the federal law that regulates the humane handling of animals at slaughterhouses.

The Chamber of Commerce business group, veterinarians and pork producers supported the National Meat Association while 13 other states, the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals supported California.

The Supreme Court case is National Meat Association v. Harris, No. 10-224.

(Reporting By James Vicini; Editing by Will Dunham)

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