USDA’s Animal Welfare Decisions Are Not Livestock

Op-Ed: The Supreme Court shouldn’t meddle with California’s standards on meat and eggs

This column was reprinted from the July 24 edition of The Tribune.

The Supreme Court doesn’t need to decide the important issue of whether eggs should be sold with or without a label on their packaging, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should be the one to decide.

To be sure, the USDA and its various enforcement agencies have made a number of decisions — on animal welfare, animal testing, animal research, egg labeling, nutrition labeling, animal welfare regulations and animal research — that go beyond the scope of the Court’s original questions. The Court has asked the two sides for more clarification on a number of these matters, and Congress has amended and reauthorized the USDA’s authority to be able to continue to make these kinds of decisions. The most significant of these amendments requires that the USDA must determine if animals (that is, poultry, pigs, cows, sheep and pigs) raised for food (factory farming) can be defined as living things (animals) or not before they are slaughtered for food. This requirement has been amended several times over the years, but it’s still up to USDA to determine if chickens, pigs, cows, lambs and calves, even when raised for food, can be defined as “living things.”

The USDA did indeed decide that they can. The agency’s Animal Welfare and Food Safety ruling, found April 2013, found that it is permissible to kill farm animals for food, even if the animal that is killed is not designated as “livestock,” but is defined as a “factory-farmed animal” with the capability of experiencing pleasure.

The USDA stated, in its Animal Welfare ruling, that “these animals clearly are not livestock; they do not have any inherent tendency of reproduction or to procreate. They also have no capacity to suffer.”

Here, the USDA is in good company. The FDA has also recently determined that it is permissible for companies to slaughter farm animals for food without their lives also being defined as livestock

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