Pork Producers Lose Challenge to California’s Farm Animal Confinement Initiative

Berkshire hogs rest in a pen. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Pork producers’ challenge to a voter-approved law requiring pigs raised for consumption and sold in California to have space to move around before they are slaughtered was struck down by a federal judge Monday.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Whelan, dismissed without prejudice the lawsuit by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, finding the farm trade groups failed to allege Proposition 12 violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

He gave the groups two weeks to file an amended complaint.

The groups claimed Proposition 12, approved by state voters in 2018 and set to go into effect Dec. 31, violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution by regulating extraterritorially, or inflicting burdens on interstate commerce.

The law regulates the production of veal, pork and eggs and forbids the sale of pork meat from hogs born of sows not housed in conformity with the law’s “stand-up-turn-around requirements.”

Under Proposition 12, also known as the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, pigs must be able to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs without touching the sides of their stalls or another animal. For hogs housed in group pens, that means each pig must be allotted at least 24 square feet.

The pork producers joined their meat industry peers in challenging the constitutionality of the law through multiple lawsuits.

Even though the law doesn’t go into effect for months, it has an immediate impact on pork producers who need to build facilities and make production changes, the groups claim.

In their lawsuit last year, the pork producers claimed Proposition 12 is “inconsistent with industry practice and standards, generations of producer experience, scientific research, and standards set by other states.”

In February, an attorney for the North American Meat Institute told U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder the regulations were “eliminating pork and veal when it’s produced in a manner that they don’t like.”

In his 12-page order Monday, Whelan — a Clinton appointee — rejected a similar argument by the pork producers, finding the law “does not regulate wholly out-of-state conduct” because it applies to both in-state and out-of-state producers who must comply with the law in order to sell their pork products to California consumers.

“Proposition 12 precludes the sale within California of products produced by hogs not raised in conformity with the requirements of Proposition 12, regardless of where the hogs are raised,” Whelan wrote.

Whelan found the extraterritorial argument also did not hold up because the law could still pass constitutional muster under the Commerce Clause, even if it has an alleged “disproportionate impact” on out-of-state pork producers because “those effects result from the regulation of in-state conduct.”

“California may seek to influence which hog products are sold in-state and create incentives for less harmful farming practices,” Whelan added.

Whelan also rejected the argument the law created a substantial burden on interstate commerce by requiring pork producers who sell some cuts of meat to California and other cuts of meat to other states to raise the “entire pig” in accordance with Proposition 12.

“While Proposition 12 might result in barriers to the production of pork, there are no barriers to the flow of pork across state lines,” Whelan wrote.

“The fact that some Proposition 12 compliant pork might reach states other than California does not mean Proposition 12 has the effect of requiring a uniform system of regulation,” the judge added.

Whelan also found any financial burdens faced by pork producers who need to renovate their farm facilities in order to comply with Proposition 12 “is not enough to establish a substantial burden on interstate commerce.”

In addition to the California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, California Department of Public Health Secretary Sonia Angell and Attorney General Xavier Becerra are also named as defendants. 

Their offices, as well as the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau, did not immediately return requests for comment Monday evening.

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