Animal Law Review


Bruce Friedrich

First Page



The one federal law that protects animals raised for food (farm animals) is the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA), which, as its name implies, covers only the final moments of animals’ lives. Beyond overall lax enforcement, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made three interpretive decisions, one with support from the Supreme Court, that have further harmed farm animals: First, USDA exempts the ritual slaughter process from oversight. Second, USDA has thus far refused to protect poultry, who represent more than 98% of slaughtered land animals. And third, USDA has argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the HMSA preempts state laws that would offer greater protection than USDA chooses to offer under the law. In Part II of this Article, I discuss the importance of farm animal protection and offer a brief introduction to the Humane Slaughter laws that exist in the United States. In Part III, I discuss the legislative history of humane slaughter statutory protection. And in Part IV, I consider whether USDA’s enforcement decisions with regard to ritual slaughter, poultry slaughter, and federal preemption of state law – which were backed by the Supreme Court – are supported by legislative history. I conclude that: (1) USDA’s refusal to regulate ritual slaughter in the ‘ritual bubble’ cannot be reconciled with legislative intent, as documented in the legislative history; (2) the Supreme Court’s decision in National Meat, which told states that they cannot grant greater slaughterhouse protection to animals than is offered by USDA regulations, was neither contemplated by, nor the intent of, Congress when it incorporated humane slaughter into the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA); and (3) although the district court was wrong to hold that HMSA 1958 intended to exclude poultry, such a decision by USDA is within its discretion, according to the legislative history.

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