ASPCA Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold California Law Banning Slaughter of Downed Animals

October 12, 2011

NEW YORK--The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) filed a brief [pdf] this week as Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) in the United States Supreme Court in support of the State of California and a coalition of animal welfare organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Humane Farming Association, that are asking the court to reject the National Meat Association's (NMA) bid to strike down a California law that bans the transport, holding and slaughter of "downed" animals for human consumption. "Downed" animals are those that are too sick or injured to stand and walk unassisted.

California amended its cruelty law in 2008 to include the added protection for downed animals after an undercover investigation by The HSUS revealed that downed dairy cows at a Chino, Calif., slaughterhouse were subjected to horrific abuse in an effort to get them to stand and walk to their own deaths. The animals were kicked, dragged, electrocuted, jammed with forklifts and sprayed in the nostrils with water to simulate drowning.

"California's decision to prevent cruelty to livestock animals who cannot stand and walk to their own slaughter is a natural and necessary expression of the state's authority to decide on humane standards of animal care within its borders," said Stacy Wolf, Esq., vice president and chief counsel, ASPCA Legal Advocacy & Humane Law Enforcement.

Last year, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the California law, but the Supreme Court granted the NMA's petition to review the decision based on its claim that the state cruelty law is preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). The FMIA seeks to ensure the safety of the food supply by regulating the inspection of animals that are slaughtered at federally regulated slaughterhouses, labeling meat products and keeping accurate records of these activities. By contrast, the California law does not regulate meat inspection, labeling, or recordkeeping but seeks only to prevent cruelty inflicted on downed animals bound for slaughter. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the California law, like other state laws banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption, is a valid exercise of the states' police power to decide how animals should be treated within their jurisdiction.

Since 1866, the ASPCA has worked to stop the cruelties committed upon animals involved in the food production process and continues today to raise awareness about factory farm cruelty, where hundreds or thousands of food animals are often housed in extremely cramped conditions and treated as non-sentient economic commodities. Approximately 10 billion animals are subjected to these conditions each year. These animals rarely, if ever, see the light of day and lead short lives full of pain and frustration.

For more information on factory farm cruelty, please visit