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Judge tosses challenge to California rules for housing pigs

The pork producers are trying to succeed where the meat industry and chicken farmers failed in fighting regulations on animal confinement.

LOS ANGELES (CN) – An attempt by Iowa pork producers to block a California law that sets strict requirements for the amount of living space breeding pigs should receive looks in trouble after a federal judge tentatively dismissed their lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder said at a hearing Monday that she will allow the Iowa Pork Producers Association to amend its complaint to try to fix shortcomings. The judge said she will issue a final ruling by Wednesday on California's motion to dismiss the case.

The pork producers have taken issue with a California ballot initiative overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018 that bans the sale of veal, pork and eggs from animals confined in a cruel manner. The implementation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act has been staggered with the requirements for egg-laying hens and veal taking effect in 2020 and those for breeding pigs in 2022.

According to the pork producers, the California requirements that breeding pigs have enough space to turn around freely as well as at least 24 square feet of usable floor space per pig are "inconsistent with pork industry practices and standards, generations of producer experience, scientific research, and the consensus standards of other states" and would cost producers tens of millions of dollars to implement.

"California seeks to unilaterally impose sweeping changes across the national pork production industry and subject out-of-state individuals in the production market to criminal penalties," the association said in its complaint.

Since California consumes as much as 15% of the pork produced in the U.S. while only having a very small number of pig breeders, and since it wouldn't be practical for out-of-state breeders to separately breed hogs for the California market, the state's confinement requirements unconstitutionally impose California law on out-of-state commerce, according the association.

Lawyers for the pork producers’ association and the California attorney general didn’t respond to emails seeking comment on the judge’s ruling by press time.

The pork producers aren't the first to go to court over California's animal cruelty law. The North American Meat Institute tried in 2019 only to be rebuffed by Judge Snyder. She ruled, and the Ninth Circuit agreed, that the California law didn't discriminate against out-of-state meat producers, didn't directly regulate extraterritorial conduct or substantially burden interstate commerce.

A group of earlier reiterations of the California law, the so-called Shell Egg Laws, drew challenges from Missouri and other states in 2014 on behalf of their chicken farmers. They struck out in court as well.

In better news for the pork producers, last month a California state court judge sided with grocers and restaurants in the state that the so-called Bacon Law can't be enforced until the rules are clarified and they have a way of knowing whether the pork they sell or serve comes from animals that have been confined per the state requirements.

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