WASHINGTON, Jan. 23- The Supreme Court today released its unanimous decision in favor of National Meat Association in NMA v. Harris, a case determining that the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) preempts a 2008 California law whose slaughterhouse handling requirements differ from federal regulations.

“We couldn’t be more pleased that the Supreme Court not only found in favor of our very clear and reasonable arguments, but that they did so unanimously,” said NMA CEO Barry Carpenter. “We are also very grateful to attorney Steven Wells, who represented NMA before the Court, and to Assistant Solicitor General Benjamin Horwich, who represented USDA.”

The California state law, under Section 599f, required that any animal unable to walk be euthanized immediately upon entrance to a swine slaughterhouse. However, under federal law, a slaughterhouse may handle these “nonambulatory” animals differently, allowing post mortem inspection and possible use for human consumption. 

The court ruled that Section 599f imposes additional or different requirements on swine slaughterhouses. Where under federal law a slaughterhouse may take one course of action in handling a nonambulatory pig, under the state law the slaughterhouse must take another.

“The FMIA regulates slaughterhouses’ handling and treatment of nonambulatory pigs from the moment of their delivery through the end of the meat production process,” according to the ruling. “California’s §599f endeavors to regulate the same thing, at the same time, in the same place—except by imposing different requirements. The FMIA expressly preempts such a state law.”

For example, when a pig becomes injured and thus nonambulatory sometime after delivery to a slaughterhouse, §599f prohibits the slaughterhouse from holding the pig without immediately euthanizing it; and §599f prohibits the slaughterhouse from processing or butchering the animal to make food. By contrast, the FMIA and its regulations allow a slaughterhouse to hold, without euthanizing, any nonambulatory animal that has not been condemned, and to process and butcher such an animal’s meat, subject to a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) official’s approval at post-mortem inspection.

Congress added uniformity and preemption provisions to the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1967.

“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,” according to the Court in its opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan. “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.”


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