U.S. Supreme Court Upholds California’s Proposition 12; Rules 5-4 against National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF)

By Jaclyn Krymowski for Protect The Harvest

If recent drought, inflation, supply chain disruptions, and regulatory overreach haven’t been challenging enough to America’s farmers and ranchers, pork producers and consumers have now been dealt a significant gut punch by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

In early May 2023, SCOTUS ruled in favor of California’s Proposition 12. The 2018 ballot initiative was passed by the state’s voters in 2018 as the result of an intense animal rights-funded campaign that inaccurately depictingdepicted hogs, and veal calfcalves, and egg-laying hens as being treated inhumanely. The ruling reinforces the authority of states to impose regulations that impact the entire nation.

Prop 12 created a battleground when California voters passed it into state law on November 6, 2018. Created, and promoted, by a myriad of animal extremist groups, the ballot initiative targeted animal welfare, specifically requiring larger space requirements for housing egg-laying hens, swine, and veal calves.

NPPC and AFBF challenged California based on regulatory overreach into other states, and the Constitution’s Commerce Clause that is supposed to prevent states from harming each other. Protect The Harvest provided a briefing document in support of the NPPC and AFBF case with SCOTUS. While California produces less than one percent of the pork consumed in the state, Californians eat about 13 percent of the nation’s pork production.

Therefore, Prop 12 requires California bureaucrats to inspect hog production facilities across the nation to make certain they comply with the state’s regulations. The case brought by NPPC and AFBF pointed out the regulatory overreach by California, as well as the economic harm to hog farmers required to invest significant funds – hundreds of millions of dollars – on unnecessary sow housing.

Based on the May 11th SCOTUS decision, breeding sows raised in California, and other states that want to sell into California, are required to each have 24 square feet of floor space before, during, and after gestation. All laying hens must be raised entirely cage-free. Both of these housing options pose serious risks to animal welfare standards and sustainable production practices.

Prop 12 was an uphill battle from the start. Agriculturalists, veterinarians, and subject matter experts attempted to educate the public on the serious welfare issues this animal activist-backed regulation would pose to animals. The phrase “pecking order” exists because there is actually such a social structure with chickens, especially hens. It is not unusual for hens to peck each other to death in group housing. Keeping them separated in individual housing units has prevented this, but Prop 12 reverses many decades of science-backed animal husbandry standards. Breeding sows have a hierarchy, with larger, stronger, more aggressive animals asserting themselves, thereby potentially endangering the gestation of other pregnant sows. This is what Prop 12 advocates.

Prop 12 reaches far beyond California

A recent Morning Ag Clips article provides a great recap on what the proposition is about:

“…the case involves a challenge to a California law known as Proposition 12, which forbids the in-state sale of pork that comes from breeding pigs, or their immediate offspring, that are ‘confined in a cruel manner.’ In the law, confinement is ‘cruel’ if it prevents a pig from ‘lying down, standing up, fully extending [its] limbs, or turning around freely.’”

The context of Prop 12 was presented in a way that sounded beneficial to animal welfare and consumer health. Those against the proposition used facts instead of emotions to back their stance. They showed the evidence on how the short-term, individual, gestation stalls, prevent sow-on-sow aggression and help ensure a consistent, high-quality, nutritious, affordable, and abundant pork supply to consumers.

In 2019, NPPC and AFBF sued California, alleging Prop 12 violates the dormant commerce clause, which is a doctrine that says the U.S. Constitution limits the power of states to control commerce outside their own borders without congressional consent.

The Associated Press reported: “The Biden administration had urged the justices to side with pork producers, telling the court in written filings that Proposition 12 would be a ‘wholesale change in how pork is raised and marketed in this country’ and that it has ‘thrown a giant wrench’ into the nation’s pork market.”

Real life impacts on pork production

Scott Hays, NPPC President, and a Missouri pork producer, explained the implications of California’s Prop 12:

“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.”

This has huge impacts for all states planning to export pork to California.

To meet consumption, California relies on other states. Now, farmers are expected to comply with regulations passed outside their own state. Not only is it costly to redesign facilities to accommodate Prop 12, it places additional strain on California’s limited pork industry, which could force greater vertical integration or force farms out of business.

The SCOTUS decision on Prop 12 now sets a dangerous precedent by supporting the efforts of animal rights extremist groups. Similar ballot initiatives, which can make it to the ballot through petition signatures, are now likely to be introduced in other states. In fact, Massachusetts passed “Question 3” in 2016. Like California’s Prop 12, the Massachusetts version also addresses housing for chickens, hogs, and calves. Also, like Prop 12, Question 3 was vigorously supported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Question 3 had been in somewhat of a limbo status, pending the SCOTUS decision on California’s Prop 12, until now.

“It’s a sad day for pork producers who are interested in caring for their animals in the best possible way. It’s a great day for animal rights extremists that want to eliminate meat from the human diet. Animals will suffer because of this law,” shared retired Illinois pork producer, Dan Erickson, on Twitter.

The success of these ballot initiatives stems from animal rights extremists’ ability to illicit public emotions over how food animals are raised and housed. They also funnel tens of millions of dollars into campaigns to first get an initiative on a state ballot, then to encourage voters to support it at the ballot box. While animal welfare is paramount, oversight is better left to experts including veterinarians and farmers who care for animals every day, rather than those who try to manipulate agriculture from urban office cubicles.

From an agricultural perspective, animal care is too vital to be dictated by oversimplified legislation based on emotions fomented by animal extremists. The decision should be based on facts, science, truth and proven animal husbandry standards. Often, when consumers come face-to-face with farmers and/or experience agriculture firsthand, they better understand the rationale for proven practices and support their use. For example, when the practice of caging a sow during birth to protect piglets is explained, caging is widely accepted by consumers.

American hog farmers are engaged in a battle to preserve their livelihoods and will continue to advocate for what’s right. We must prevent becoming completely controlled by rules and regulations established by those who are ill-informed and have never produced a single calorie of food, yet strive to dictate how animals are raised despite lacking any credentials.

Prop 12 is ideological and elitist, supporting the veganism mission of a few zealous activists. Sadly, as a result of those efforts, consumers will experience increased prices that challenge lower-income families that rely on pork to meet their protein and nutrient needs. Small farmers will also struggle to meet the new requirements and may even go out of business.

Prop 12 mandates tremendous changes to current practices and huge investments. Currently, 72 percent of pork producers “…use individual pens for sows that do not allow them to turn around and that even farmers who house sows in larger group pens do not provide the space California would require,” per The Associated Press.

What does this mean going forward?

For the pork industry, the SCOTUS decision means Prop 12 could be the first of many other ballot initiatives as the effort spreads to other states that could adopt similar regulations.

Ballot initiatives are historically a favorite of animal extremist groups because they allow them to circumvent the legislative process required to create most laws. Ballot petitions are written to make the initiatives sound appealing and reasonable, but they do not take into account the real-life implications and impact on the entire food supply chain.

President and CEO of the Humane Society (HSUS), Kitty Block stated, “The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold California’s Proposition 12 makes clear that preventing animal cruelty and protecting public health are core functions of state governments.”

Block also says HSUS will not stop fighting “until the pork industry ends its cruel, reckless practice of confining mother pigs in cages so small they can’t even turn around.”

Hindering producers and food security

Ultimately ballot measures such as California’s Prop 12 and Massachusetts Question 3 harm both farmers and consumers. They drive up costs, reduce availability, adversely impact food security, and harm the freedom of food choices Americans have enjoyed. These measures outright oppose a free and fed America, and Protect The Harvest will continue to engage each day to protect those values.

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