Livestock News

U.S. Supreme Court rejects review of California’s Prop 12

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It’s the decision that many producers around the country were dreading — where one state, California, was able to push through a proposal known as Prop 12 that would have a ripple effect across livestock management around the country. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined a review of California’s Prop 12, more formally known as the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, after a challenge made by the North American Meat Institute.

Prop 12 imposes new standards for animal housing. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the measure creates minimum requirements to provide more space for veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens. The law requires farmers to eventually give egg-laying hens at least one foot of floor space, and to completely eliminate cages not long after that. Farmers must also give veal calves 43 square feet and sows 24 feet of space under the new measure.

It was seen as a big stick that was able to be wielded by just one state, and the infringement on individual states to reasonably govern their own standards was a big concern to many. While, technically, other states’ rights aren’t being impacted, the reality is that they are, because California commands such a big economy and other states rely on the business that’s done on the West Coast.

Basically, farmers in places such as Michigan, Massachusetts, or Texas who sell goods in California will be held to the same rules that in-state California producers are held. California represents 15 percent of the U.S. pork market, for example, so not complying with the laws means cutting out a large chunk of the market. 

» Related: What does California’s Prop 12 mean for animal agriculture?

“We are disappointed our petition for cert was denied. We will be considering other options to protect consumers and producers from Proposition 12, which will cost both millions of dollars, according to economists and the state of California’s own analysis,” Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for NAMI, said in a statement.

NAMI took issue with the statements in Prop 12 itself and questioned the value of enacting such a law.

“The recently proposed rule by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) admits there are no benefits to Californians as a result of Prop 12. CDFA admits deaths of breeding sows will increase. Both are unintentional consequences of a costly and unconstitutional law,” said Julie Anna Potts, President and CEO of the North American Meat Institute. 

NAMI took its petition to the Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected NAMI’s challenge to the ballot initiative last year.

According to PorkBusiness.com, Prop 12 is currently being challenged in a separate lawsuit from the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, asking the court to strike down Prop 12 as unconstitutional under the Dormant Commerce Clause. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral arguments in April and is expected to make a decision in mid-July.

Unfortunately, these Dormant Commerce Clause arguments haven’t been very successful in California’s Ninth Circuit. Similar lawsuits were filed against other ballot initiatives in California, but the courts didn’t buy it.

According to National Hog Farmer, when Proposition 12 was first contemplated, it was expected pork producers would have over two years after those regulations came out to figure out how to comply. NPPC Assistant Vice President and General Counsel Michael Formica says many producers haven’t started making investments in changing housing barns because they don’t know what the final regulations will require.

Prop 12 “is a clear regulatory overreach and a violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Formica said.

What’s in the measure?

The following are key findings in the notice published along with the proposed rule:

  • Estimated costs for businesses to comply regarding pork. “Estimated ongoing cost is greater than the initial cost of conversion at $100,000 per year for a typical breeding pig farm due to smaller inventory of breeding pigs, lower piglet output per animal and increased breeding pig mortality.”
  • CDFA acknowledges that animal confinement space allowances prescribed in the Act (cage-free for egg-laying hens, 43 square feet for veal calves and 24 square feet for breeding pigs) “are not based in specific peer-reviewed published scientific literature or accepted as standards within the scientific community to reduce human food-borne illness, promote worker safety, the environment, or other human or safety concerns.”
  • CDFA also identified higher costs for schools, universities, prisons, and county jails. And discussing “Benefits to human health, worker safety, or the State’s environment,” CDFA said, “The Department has made an initial determination that the proposed regulatory action will have significant, statewide adverse economic impact directly affecting California businesses including the ability of California businesses to compete with businesses in other states.”
  • Finally, the agency identified an impact Prop 12 is likely to have — forcing low income consumers to pay more for food. “Covered pork, and especially covered egg products will become more expensive to consumers starting in January 2022 because of the animal confinement standards mandated in statutes. … Therefore, the Act will disproportionately reduce food purchasing power of low-income consumers. … Food consumers most affected will be those low-income consumers that are not enrolled in assistance programs.”

The text of the notice and proposed rule can be found here.

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