California Downer Ban Survives Challenge

After an undercover investigation in 2008 showed heinous acts of animal cruelty toward nonambulatory or “downed” animals at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co., California strengthened an existing law governing the treatment of downed animals. The amended law made it illegal for a slaughterhouse, auction, or market to improperly hold or move a downed animal and ordered that these animals be humanely euthanized immediately (or given veterinary care).

Unfortunately, in National Meat Association v. Harris, the US Supreme Court declared that, with respect to those parts of the California law pertaining to slaughterhouses (at least), the state law was preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), which has its own, weaker, provisions on the treatment of downed animals. In the wake of this Supreme Court decision, it was unclear if anything at all was left of the California law—until now.

After a 2012 undercover investigation at a livestock market in Southern California showed employees kicking, throwing, and dragging downed animals, California charged the perpetrators with nine counts of improperly holding and moving nonambulatory animals, and failing to immediately euthanize them. The defendants argued that Harris invalidated these state requirements and therefore they could not be charged under the downer law. This spring, the California appeals court disagreed—stating that Harris only applied to establishments subject to inspection under the FMIA, and therefore California can still prosecute someone for improper treatment of downed animals at auctions and livestock markets.