Last year a California law that banned the sale of pork products made from pigs that are unable to walk on their own was reinstated. The ban’s revival took place in a federal appears court, but the meat industry is still challenging the ban because it will decrease its profits. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge from the meat industry. (The Obama administration actually sided with the meat industry’s criticism of the ban.)
The animals in question are sometimes called downer pigs, and they were being slaughtered in California meat processing facilities. The main reason for reenacting the ban was the possibility of meat from diseased pigs being processed and sold for human consumption. Another reason was the release of a Humane Society video showing downer cows – which are in the same feeble condition as downer pigs – being dragged, shocked, kicked and rammed with forklifts at a California slaughterhouse. Downer pigs were being treated in a similar manner. The downer pig ban also prohibited dragging the poor animals with chains or pushing them with equipment.
A federal judge in Fresno, CA had barred enforcement of the law following a lawsuit by the National Meat Association, a meat packers and processing association with about 500 members. They said federal regulations block the use of downer cattle in meat production, but do allow the use of downer pigs and other animals, unless they show signs of disease. The motive for the meat packing industry is clear: they want to process as many animals as possible as quickly as they can. Treating all animals as fodder for the meat mill requires less time and attention to the animals that are sick and should not be used to make food for humans. Anything that slows down the production line reduces their revenues, so of course they don’t want to take the time and make the effort to treat the animals well. “In order to maximize profits, meat processors have continually increased the speed of their production lines.” (Source: sustainable.org)
The U.S. pork industry has become more consolidated in recent years with the top five producers controlling about 72% of the market. The amount of money these companies make is enormous, and so is their pork production. For example, according to a Duke University report the 2007 retail value of American pork products was $51 billion dollars. About 105 million hogs were processed the year before to produce 21 billion pounds of pork products. The animal farming companies and meat packers have become more organized in lobbying for regulations that allow them to increase profits, and decrease interference from outside groups.
If the state law of California can hamper the pork production and profit making of the pork industry, other states might then be able to enact similar laws, further cutting into industry profits. The meat packers want to overturn such a ban and the efforts of a very large state such as California to regulate slaughterhouse operations in a way they don’t like. If the the Supreme Court rules against the ban on using lame pigs for meat, then it may become the legal framework preventing any other states from ever enacting a similar ban, and therefore the meat packing industry wins the whole game. Also if the the meat packing plants can legally simply shove all the lame and sick pigs into the grinder so to speak, there won’t be any evidence of animal disease, neglect or abuse remaining.
The Supreme Court will begin reviewing the case in October of 2011: National Meat Association vs. Harris, 10-224.