California amended its penal code in 2008 to say that no slaughterhouse shall "buy, sell, or receive a non-ambulatory animal"; "process, butcher, or sell meat or products of non-ambulatory animals for human consumption"; or "hold a non-ambulatory animal without taking immediate action to humanely euthanize the animal."
The state law was inspired by an undercover video released by the Humane Society of the United States "showing workers at a slaughterhouse in California dragging, kicking, and electroshocking sick and disabled cows in an effort to move them." The video led to the largest government beef recall in U.S. history.
But in a challenge brought by the National Meat Association against the state law's application to pig slaughterhouses, the Supreme Court said the state law was trumped by the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which regulates a broad range of activities at slaughterhouses to ensure the safety of meat and the humane handling of animals.
The U.S. Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service,which administers the FMIA, "has issued extensive regulations to govern the inspection of animals and meat, as well as other aspects of slaughterhouses' operations and facilities," Justice Elena Kagan said in her unanimous opinion.
"The FMIA expressly pre-empts [the state law's] application against federally inspected swine slaughterhouses," Kagan said. "The FMIA's pre-emption clause sweeps widely, and so blocks the applications of [state law] challenged here. The clause prevents a state from imposing any additional or different -- even if non-conflicting -- requirements that fall within the FMIA's scope and concern slaughterhouse facilities or operations."