Which Little Piggy Goes to Market?

UPDATE: In January the Supreme Court overturned California’s law for the humane treatment of downed hogs (and other animals) being slaughtered for human consumption. Meanwhile, Gary Ackerman (D-NY) has again proposed a bill to Congress that would put in place stricter federal legislation regarding downed animals. His proposal would permanently forbid downed animals from entering our food supply and allow them humane euthanization.


The other night, I planned on attending a lecture at the UCLA campus on the topic of Farmed Animals and the Law. The speaker was Compassion Over Killing’s General Counsel Cheryl Leahy. The topic interested me in light of the upcoming Supreme Court ruling regarding California’s slaughter methods for farmed animals. This case is being closely watched by animal rights groups and California citizens concerned about what goes on in their state. The story of the case goes like this…

In 2008 California passed legislation called the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA). One important change that the HMSA brought to California food production was that downed pigs (and other livestock) could not be assigned into the slaughter line. A “downed” pig (or goat, or sheep, or cow) is one that is so sick or injured that it is non-ambulatory. According to federal standards, although these animals can’t walk they can still be included in our food systems. Of course a non-ambulatory animal must be dragged, forklifted or torturously “prompted” in order to get them to the final line.  The US government has said NO to putting downed cattle into our food. California residents decided that wasn’t enough. They have said NO to downed pigs, sheep, and other livestock as well.  They decided that no downer animals can be added to the food system and must be euthanized on the spot. This puts pressure (rightfully so!) on transport procedures, daily care, and veterinary care standards.

Now the pork industry is arguing that California cannot require slaughterhouses to adopt euthanasia procedures since there is no federal law mandating it. The case, National Meat Association vs. Harris, has gone to the Supreme Court. Arguments have been made and it is expected that a decision will be delivered in the next few months.  This case raises questions not only of animal welfare, but also of states’ rights.  In fact, this is the first time in my adult life when I feel like I grasp what is meant by states’ rights. As a resident of California, it pisses me off that the federal government might come in and crush the efforts that this state has made toward more humane food production. Perhaps I wouldn’t be if I didn’t unwaveringly believe that the pork industry lobbyists are playing puppeteer in this scenario in order to protect their bottom line no matter the suffering that upholds it.

Ultimately, I don’t want anyone to eat a pig. But millions—oh, let me be specific…one hundred thirteen million—pigs are killed each year in the United States by the huge pork industries (of which there are just 4 main players, go figure) in horrific conditions after living their short lives in crammed enclosures and terrifying transport trailers. Every small step, every bit of compassion that these exploited animals can receive is worth hoping for and fighting for.

I was eager to hear what Cheryl Leahy expected the outcome of this case to be. Alas, Los Angeles traffic got the better of me. As I sat on Wilshire, just a mile away from campus yet going nowhere, I came to my own prediction that California has a slim chance of winning this case. I’m not trying to sound pessimistic, but realistic. Lobbyists for the meat and dairy industries are so powerful that it makes for a David and Goliath battle every time someone goes up against them.  In the Occupy Wall Street declaration and manifesto, one grievance against corporations is that they, “have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.” Bingo. But there’s a second “Bingo.” And that is in OWS’s concluding remarks where they incite citizens to “create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.”

This brings me to the question that many of posts will most likely end with: What can I do? First of all, I will certainly post an update on the case as soon as I hear of it. Second, I will continue to NOT eat meat as long as the status quo system of factory farming and CAFO’s is as grotesque and amoral as I believe them it to be. Third, I will continue to encourage others to do the same. And who knows…it might just be time to write another petition!

Stay tuned…

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