The US Supreme Court ruling affirms the dismissal of the lawsuit over California’s Proposition 12 law—but the National Pork Producers Council said it will continue to fight.
By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com; Image of Scott Hays courtesy of the NPPC
On May 11, 2023, the US Supreme Court ruled against a meat industry challenge to California law Proposition 12, (aka Prop 12) which bans extreme confinement in animal agriculture in California, as well as the sale in California of products derived from these practices. This was NPPC v. Ross.
The law had previously passed in a bipartisan, landslide victory, with over 60 percent of the vote. The law, relative to the swine industry, bans the selling of pork products derived from sows that don’t have at least 24 square feet of space and the ability to stand up and turn around in their pens.
The pork industry had challenged Proposition 12 in four separate lawsuits—but at the trial and appellate level, it has ruled against the industry.
In the ruling, the Supreme Court ruled against the NPPC in favor of Proposition 12.
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, writing the majority in a 5-4 decision, rejected what he called a request by pork producers for the court to “fashion two new and more aggressive constitutional restrictions on the ability of States to regulate goods sold within their borders.”
On May 12, 2023, the NPPC (National Pork Producers Council)—the global voice for the US pork industry—held a Zoom meeting to discuss the court’s decision, what it means for consumers in California, for producers around the US, Canada, and the world, and just what comes next.
Scott Hays, the NPPC president, and a Missouri pork producer stated: “We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion.
“Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation. We are still evaluating the Court’s full opinion to understand all the implications. NPPC will continue to fight for our nation’s pork farmers and American families against misguided regulations.”
Per the wording of the law that was Proposition 12, there is now a minimum space requirement for egg-laying hens, mother pigs, and baby cows raised for veal in California, such that these animals cannot be confined in industry-standard cages, which are barely bigger than their bodies.
Proposition 12 also requires that any eggs, pork, or veal sold in the state comply with these space requirements, regardless of where those products were produced.
California has little to no pork-producing industry, so the decision to uphold Proposition 12 affects pork-producing farms and businesses everywhere else.
Also, it will affect the California consumer. While small pork farms may already fall within the purview of the spacing requirements, there certainly will not be enough pork supplied to meet demand.
In other words, California is going to face a massive shortage of pork products, such as bacon, ham, and pork chops. Somewhere, Homer Simpson is emitting a great big d’oh!
The lawsuit before the Supreme Court challenged the latter aspect of the law, arguing that out-of-state pork producers should be able to sell pig products in California without complying with Prop 12’s space requirements. The case was thrown out by two lower courts, dismissals that were affirmed in the Supreme Court ruling.
The decision is interesting because the pork industry argued that the State of California is essentially telling the rest of the world how it should produce pigs for consumption. They argued that one state should not be able to tell other states how to conduct its own business, that it is an affront to the US Constitution.
But is it? Proponents of Proposition 12, however, state that California is NOT telling pork-producing businesses out of state or country how to go about their business. They are simply stating how they want the animals treated before becoming part of the California food chain.
California is saying how it wants to do business, and it has the right to not do business with those who are unable to follow their belief/laws. And it is this point that the NPPC had difficulty in convincing the US Supreme Court otherwise.
Aside from the constitutionality issue, the NPPC said that Proposition 12 also:
- Imposes arbitrary standards. The law is based on arbitrary and prescriptive standards that lack any scientific, technical, or agricultural basis;
- Threatens animal welfare. Implementing this law will reverse decades of progress in animal welfare and farm biosecurity and undermine the global competitiveness of the US pork industry. It is unjustified and counterproductive to advancing animal health and safety – and jeopardizes sow safety;
- Increases food prices and disrupts supply chains. The cost to implement Prop 12 has been measured to be approximately $3,500/sow, a cost that farmers will need to pass on to consumers at a time of record-high inflation;
- Threaten producers’ livelihoods. Financial investments and an ever-increasing patchwork of standards continues to create significant challenges for how producers operate and increasingly allow others to dictate how to raise pigs without any voice in the standards being imposed upon them.
The State of California has a long history of setting standards, having been the de facto leader in how the other 49 States set their own levels of greenness regarding GHG emissions. States must at least follow the bare minimums set by California.
Will something similar occur in the animal welfare for the food production sector?
For now, it appears as though California residents will see shortages of pork and other animal proteins that they can purchase legally—which may drive up the price of such proteins in the State.
Or could we see the new beginnings of bootleggers bringing in much-desired pork or other animal proteins? The old Vaudeville joke could become a reality: Wanna buy a duck?
Meanwhile, the NPPC vows to continue the fight for pork processing businesses in the US against Prop 12.