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January 23, 2012

California Downed Animal Law Struck Down, Hens Legislation Introduced

There are big stirrings today at the federal level―both bad and good―on farm animal policy.

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Take action here to help hens.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a harmful ruling nullifying major portions of California’s 2008 law to ban the mistreatment and slaughtering of downed animals, with implications not only for the humane treatment of pigs and other farm animals, but also for the health and safety of consumers. The challenge to California’s law was brought by the National Meat Association and supported before the court by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), which argued that the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempts any state from banning the use of sick and injured animals in the food supply, even though downer pigs are 16 times more likely to have antibiotic-resistant Campylobacter (the most common cause of bacterial food poisoning in the United States) than ambulatory pigs. We criticized the ruling and urged Congress and USDA to take action to strengthen federal rules related to downed animals.

Just across the street from the Supreme Court at the Capitol, a bipartisan group of four U.S. representatives, led by veterinarian Kurt Schrader, introduced the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 at the urging of The HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP). This legislation (H.R. 3798) would codify a landmark agreement between The HSUS and UEP, essentially doubling the space per laying hen, banning forced starvation molting of the hens, and creating a labeling program to provide consumers with consistent information on production systems (e.g., “eggs from caged hens” and “eggs from cage-free hens” on cartons).

Already, the NPPC and several other livestock industry groups that have nothing to do with egg production have announced their opposition to H.R. 3798 because they oppose any federal animal welfare standards. Remember, this is the same NPPC that successfully used federal law as a sword to nullify California’s anti-downer law. In that case, the pork industry group argued that only the federal government can set rules for the humane treatment of animals at USDA-inspected slaughterhouses, and that the states have no role at all.

So just to keep this all straight: NPPC wants federal standards to override state laws for downer pigs, but it wants to tell the egg industry not to have a federal standard for its animals.

When it comes to downer pigs, the pork industry doesn’t want either Congress or the USDA to enact any measures to stop the mistreatment of these animals. And it’s urged federal courts to strike down any state laws against the mistreatment of downer animals.

So there’s one overriding conclusion. The pork industry wants no state or federal laws to protect any farm animals. Federal or state. Pig or chicken. Animal or mineral. It wants to be left to its own devices, even though it routinely confines animals in gestation crates barely larger than their bodies and has no problem with downer animals being dragged or abused to get them into the kill box.

So you’ve got two very contrasting visions for how animals should be treated in society. The HSUS and the egg industry believe in reasonable, consistent rules that can help animals and producers alike, and the pork industry and some others think there should be no rules whatever. I bet I know where the public stands on these issues. And now it’s up to Congress to act on behalf of the people, not special interests who care just about profits.

Please contact your U.S. representative and urge him or her to cosponsor H.R. 3798, and ask your two U.S. senators to support the legislation, too. Tell them the improvements for laying hens are good for animal welfare and supported by nearly the entire egg industry and animal protection community. Animals need protection from people who treat them like they don’t matter at all.

Léalo en español (Read this blog entry in Spanish).

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