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Proposition 12 stands

Proposition 12 stands

The US Supreme Court ruling affirms the dismissal of the lawsuit over California’s Proposition 12 law.

By Andrew Joseph,; Photo by Amber Kipp on Unsplash

Today, May 12, 2023, the US Supreme Court ruled against a meat industry challenge to California law Proposition 12, which bans extreme confinement in animal agriculture in California, as well as the sale in California of products derived from these practices.

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 today’s ruling, the Supreme Court ruled 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.”

“No matter how cruel or painful a practice is, the animal agriculture industry has fought against laws to prohibit it–in this case, all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Cheryl Leahy, Executive Director at Animal Outlook, one of the animal advocacy organizations that intervened as a defendant in the case to support California in defending Proposition 12. “When a powerful industry will stop at nothing to make complicity in cruelty mandatory, it’s a clear sign that the cruelty is part and parcel of that industry, and the only way to refuse to be a part of it is to not eat animals altogether.”

Proposition 12 sets minimum space requirements 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.
Prop 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.

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 today’s 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.

California has a long history of setting standards. It has long been the de facto leader in how states set their own levels of greenness. States must at least follow the bare minimums set by California.

Will something similar occur in the animal welfare for the food production sector?

Prop 12 was enacted directly by voters in a California ballot proposition, in a landslide victory, with nearly 63 percent of the vote. Supporters ranged widely and included the Humane Society of the United States, the United Farm Workers, the National Black Farmers Association, the California Council of Churches, and the Consumer Federation of America.

According to Animal Outlook, recent surveys have reported that 80 percent of voters across party lines nationwide support the protections provided by Prop 12 and would welcome laws providing such protections in their home state.

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