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Pig Farmers to Stand Trial at Supreme Court

The formal question before the justices will be the constitutionality of California’s 2018 initiative-passed Proposition 12. If the farmers lose, a state will be allowed to enforce a regulation on out-of-state production methods. Historically, states could regulate only the character and quality of products made elsewhere (via product safety standards, for example), not the means of making them.

But alongside the constitutional question will be public judgment on the morality of American pig farming. The case arose because accusers skillful in modern media but ignorant of modern pig farming charged U.S. pig farmers with cruelty to their animals. Prop 12 bans in-state sale of pork from pigs born anywhere to sows housed in so-called “gestation crates” (protective pens) that don’t meet California space specifications, which almost none in the nation do. It ignores that other states – such as Ohio – have other rules, some in conflict with California’s.

Pig raising is broken into stages (with some farms combining the first two). Farrow-to-Wean farms breed pigs and raise piglets until they are weaned (around 10 pounds). Feeder farms take weaned pigs and raise them until they are about 40 pounds. Finishing farms take those pigs and raise them until they reach market weight. Then the pigs go to the processor.

It sounds simple, but sometimes, with each movement to a new stage and a new farm, growing pigs can be combined with pigs from other farms. Tracking which pig was born to which sow at which farms adds a level of complexity and legal risk that major processors will not accept. Rather than deal with higher costs and exposure, they will demand that all farms comply or charge consumers a big premium. I can say with 100 percent certainty, when that happens, our barns will have to be shuttered. Our family cannot afford the compliance costs.

At the same time, pig farms are safer for pigs. Because pigs can be extremely aggressive toward one another, during vulnerable periods in their lifecycles sows are now moved to carefully designed individual stalls. This specialized housing is the excuse that anti-meat activists have used to attack us.

Pig farmers cannot believe these attacks. They have dedicated their lives to providing the nation with a healthy source of protein and other nutrients at a price ordinary families can afford — and doing it ever more humanely. The public benefits have been enormous, and the treatment of pigs is now by far the best in the world.

Pig farmers take seriously their duty to make available the nourishment that American families put on their tables. Let’s hope the justices understand that.

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