The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Monday that they would hear a case over California’s Prop 12 law later this year, specifically hearing a challenge over the banning the sale of items when new animal confinement standards are not met.
The issue dates back to 2018, when California voters approved Proposition 12 63% to 37% in the November mid-term elections. Prop 12, also known as the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, was to set minimum confinement space requirements in terms of square feet for breeding pigs, egg-laying hens, and calves raised for veal beginning in January 2022. For those not meeting or complying with the new standards, whether they are in-state or out-of-state, the sale of those items would not be allowed in California.
Proponents of the bill, largely fueled by animal rights and welfare groups such as the Humane Society for the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), were needed to allow animals the space to perform all vital behaviors, reduce suffering of animals, and improve food safety by reducing disease spread among animals in more closely confined areas. Opponents of the bill, which included many farm and farmer industry groups, noted that the industries were already slowly bringing in these standards anyway and were simply giving farms and farmers who could not afford the changes right away to improve their spaces for animals as time allowed. In addition many out-of-state farmers did not like to comply with a California-only law and would likely not be able to sell there following the law becoming live, with prices to go up exponentially and the economic loss in California being $320 million per year from pork product restrictions alone.
While the egg industry largely became compliant, the pork industry, who faced a much more difficult time complying with the law, continued to try and block the law in courts in the late 2010s and early 2020s, including several tries at Constitutional violations in federal and appellate courts in 2020 and 2021, as well as the Supreme Court rejecting a lawsuit over Prop 12 last year. The industry continued to push that prices would go up. Despite the deadline coming and going in early January, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled in mid-January that the pork restrictions be delayed by 180 days to give producers more time to comply, specifically for those outside of California who rely on Californian sales.
Finally, on Monday, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation were successful in getting the challenge to Prop. 12 in front of the Supreme Court in the upcoming new term.
Those for the repeal or massive delayal of Prop 12 praised the Court’s decision to take the case, especially concerning the state’s requirements being pushed on out-of-state farmers.
“The AFBF is pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision to consider the constitutionality of California’s law imposing arbitrary requirements on farmers well outside its borders,” American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall said on Monday. “We share California’s goal of ensuring animals are well cared for, but Prop 12 fails to advance that goal. We look forward to presenting the facts to the Court, including how Prop 12 hamstrings farmers’ efforts to provide a safe environment for their animals, while harming small family farms and raising pork prices across the country. One state’s misguided law should not dictate farming practices for an entire nation.”
However, opponents countered that the law is cruel to animals and were confident that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the state on the Prop 12 matter.
“We are confident the Supreme Court will uphold California’s landmark farm animal protection law,” said Humane Society CEO Kitty Block. “The Court has repeatedly affirmed the states’ rights to enact laws protecting animals, public health and safety, and the pork industry should focus on eliminating cruel caging of animals rather than attacking popular, voter-passed animal cruelty laws.”
Prop. 12 to be argued in the Supreme Court later this year
Out of state farmers, meanwhile, are waiting patiently on how California will rule.
“The state has no idea the time, effort, cost, and everything it would take to update most pig farms,” said Scott Gentry, a pig farmer who lives in Spencer, Iowa, to the Globe on Monday. “We ship a lot of hogs out there when the time comes. But, to meet California’s standards, I’d need need to spend thousands on renovations and reduce my herd here by at least 1,000 to meet those new space requirements. That’s a lot of money we’re talking about.”
“And people there are saying we don’t care about our pigs here. We do. We put them in crates, the ones California wants gone, to stop them from fighting and hurting each other. I’ve seen sows left out during breeding time nearly killing other when not put in one of those. I mean, these rules. They had to have been written by someone who never visited a farm before.”
“My brother runs a dairy farm just north in Minnesota. A lawyer from out East came out on a fact finding mission over some laws involving dairy cow welfare some years back. He was friendly enough, but it was obvious he and his team had no idea what was going on. When he saw a herd, he asked why some cows didn’t have udders. My brother was confused at this question until he realized that the lawyer thought all cattle had udders by watching TV and just assuming. When he asked if he meant the bulls there, the lawyer and his associates turned red. They knew so little going in and had to be given a dairy farm 101 on the spot right there.”
“This California law, I’m getting those same feelings from the people who wrote that. Mind you, many Californians I’m sure know a thing or two about farms. I have some hog breeder friends out there. But obviously not the people that wrote this bill. You know, we do things that care for the animals. The people who wrote this, well, they still need to learn a thing or two.”
The Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments on the Prop 12 case beginning in the new term in October.