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California court delays enforcement of Prop 12

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The Superior Court for Sacramento County in California announced that the state must halt enforcement of Proposition 12 for six months because the California Department of Food and Agriculture is more than two years late finalizing regulations.

Since its passage, producers have been opposed to California’s proposed rules for Prop 12, a measure that would create minimum requirements to provide more space for veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens. The rule is especially alarming because it would not only impact California-based livestock producers but also producers from elsewhere in the U.S. who sold goods to people in California. The measure was set to start on January 1, 2022. Nearly all pork currently produced in the United States fails to meet California’s arbitrary standards.

The North American Meat Institute, a major opponent of the measure, celebrated today’s news.

“Judge [James P.] Arguelles’ decision recognizes the complexity of the pork supply chain and the burdensome and costly provisions of Prop 12,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and CEO of the Meat Institute. “To enforce the law without final regulations leaves the industry unsure of how to comply or what significant changes must be made to provide pork to this critical market.”

The ruling delays enforcement until 180 days after the final rules go into effect. 

In addition to the temporary halt of the rules, the measure is currently in the process of being presented to the U.S. Supreme Court. American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council petitioned the Supreme Court to take their case against California over the unfair regulations.

“Today’s ruling is another example of inherent flaws in Proposition 12. Besides putting unfair pressure on retailers, it takes away farmers’ flexibility to ensure hogs are raised in a safe environment. Small farms across the country will be forced to make expensive and unnecessary changes to their operations, which will lead to more consolidation and higher food prices for all of America’s families. It’s imperative that the Supreme Court address the constitutionality of Proposition 12. The laws of one state should not set the rules for an entire nation.”

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has admitted the initiative will have no effect on food safety while also increasing the mortality rate for sows subject to it.

To continue selling pork to the 40 million consumers who live in California, which represents about 15 percent of the U.S. pork market, pork producers would need to switch to alternative sow housing systems. Industry estimates for converting sow barns or building new ones to meet the Prop 12 standards are in the billions of dollars, with consumers bearing the ultimate cost through higher pork prices.

In the NPPC’s lawsuit, “We’re asking the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of one state imposing regulations that reach far outside its borders and stifle interstate and international commerce,” said NPPC President Jen Sorenson. “In this case, arbitrary animal housing standards that lack any scientific, technical or agricultural basis and that will only inflict harm on U.S. hog farmers.”

Generally, the Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to regulate trade among the states and restricts states from regulating commerce outside their borders, except for matters related to public health and safety.

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