Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ninth Circuit Upholds California’s Law Governing Meat Production Standards

A Ninth Circuit panel on Thursday upheld a district court’s ruling that says meat producers who want to sell their products in California need to abide by the state’s animal cruelty law.

(CN) — A Ninth Circuit panel on Thursday upheld a district court’s ruling that says meat producers who want to sell their products in California need to abide by the state’s animal cruelty law.

The three-judge panel reaffirmed a federal judge’s ruling that denied the North American Meat Institute’s fight to keep the law from applying to businesses from outside the Golden State.

The North American Meat Institute is a trade group that boasts members from Tyson Foods, Butterball and many other meat suppliers.

California voters in 2018 approved Proposition 12, the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, that bans the sale of eggs and meat not produced to the state’s standards.

To abide by California’s confinement standards, farmers must provide 43 square feet of floor space for calves, 24 square feet for pigs and more than a foot for hens.

In its complaint filed in federal court in Los Angeles, NAMI argued the ban violated the commerce clause by essentially erecting a “trade barrier” and claimed the state’s law should not extend beyond its borders.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder denied the group’s request to block the law in November 2019, finding the law does not force out-of-state farmers to move to California to sell their goods.

Attorneys for NAMI claimed the law forced producers to a standard they had no say in and took away an advantage from those producers outside California.

During a June oral argument, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo, sitting with the Ninth Circuit panel by designation from the Southern District of California, asked the trade group why California voters were wrong when they voted to ensure their meat was not raised in a cruel manner.

NAMI attorney Paul Zidlicky of Sidley Austin said California can dictate animal welfare in the Golden State but not outside its borders.

The panel did not agree with the trade group’s assessment of the law and on Thursday affirmed Snyder’s ruling.

“The district court did not abuse its discretion in holding that NAMI was unlikely to succeed on the merits of its dormant Commerce Clause claim,” the panel wrote in a 3-page memorandum. “The district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Proposition 12 does not have a discriminatory purpose given the lack of evidence that the state had a protectionist intent.”

The panel upheld that Proposition 12 does not burden interstate commerce or impact a national industry or requires a uniform regulation system. They added that the district court was correct in denying a preliminary injunction because NAMI was unlikely to succeed on the merits of the case.

The panel also agreed that Proposition 12 “does not directly regulate extraterritorial conduct because it is not a price control or price affirmation statute.”

Attorney Bruce Wagman with Riley Safer represented intervenors The Humane Society of the United States, and when reached by phone on Thursday said the law is not an economic protectionist statute, but one based on health and safety and animal cruelty. 

Wagman said Proposition 12 is a law based on the morals of California and the state has the right to reject products that are raised through animal cruelty.

“The district court was pretty clear that Prop 12 does not regulate other state’s activities wholly,” Wagman said.

“Rather than continuing to squander their members’ money on losing frivolous lawsuits, the meat industry trade groups should instead invest in improving animal welfare and complying with animal cruelty laws,” said Rebecca Cary, senior staff attorney for the Humane Society, in a statement.

“We are disappointed in the ruling and are reviewing our options,” a spokesperson for NAMI said. “California should not be able to dictate farming practices across the nation.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said it is "pleased with the Ninth Circuit's decision."

This past July, a district judge ruled that Californians could import foie gras – fattened goose liver that is achieved through force-feeding — despite a statewide ban and a lengthy legal dispute.

U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Segal Ikuta and U.S. Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan, both George W. Bush appointees, rounded out the panel.

Categories / Appeals, Law

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.