Animal Welfare Law May Face Injunction

Farms Challenging an Animal Welfare Law in Massachusetts Want Injunction Issued

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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A group of farms and food companies have asked a court for a preliminary injunction to prevent the enforcement of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in Massachusetts. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- A group of food companies and farms asked a federal court to prevent the implementation of an animal welfare law in Massachusetts patterned after California's Proposition 12, telling the court in a motion for preliminary injunction there isn't enough pork in the market to accommodate demands from both states for compliant product.

As voters did on Prop 12 in California, Massachusetts voters supported Question 3 -- a ballot initiative that led to the implementation of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.

The act requires farms to meet minimum size requirements for farm animal confinements to sell pork products in Massachusetts. Question 3 passed in November 2016 and the act took effect in June 2022.

A group of food companies and farms that filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts asked the court for a preliminary injunction in a motion filed earlier this month.

The act was on a court-ordered stay that expired on Aug. 23.

"Triumph sells its pork through a marketing agreement with Seaboard Foods, who makes all sales decisions, often on a national-account basis," the companies said in their motion.

"Triumph will process, package, and distribute the pork cuts directly into Massachusetts for those customers. If Seaboard is unable to supply an order that demands compliant whole pork meat, Seaboard and Triumph risk losing the profits realized from the entire nationwide contract with those entities."

The lawsuit was filed by Triumph Foods LLC, Christensen Farms Midwest LLC, The Hanor Company of Wisconsin LLC, New Fashion Pork LLC, Eichelberger Farms Inc. and Allied Producers' Cooperative.

They said farmers who supply pork are faced with a difficult task.

"Most of farmer plaintiffs' operations do not -- and cannot - comply with the Act," they said in the motion.

"Even though some of farmer plaintiffs' farms comply, it would not produce enough pork to sustain Triumph's Massachusetts' demand. Seaboard is demanding more Proposition 12 pork than what Triumph and the farmer plaintiffs have available or could possibly make available."

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act makes it unlawful "for a farm owner or operator within the commonwealth of Massachusetts to knowingly cause any covered animal to be confined in a cruel manner."

The Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, the Humane League, Farm Sanctuary, Compassion in World Farming USA, and Animal Outlook also filed a motion to intervene in the case. Those groups were involved in drafting the Massachusetts law.

To issue a preliminary injunction the court will need to find that four elements were met by the plaintiffs: a likelihood of success on the merits; the likelihood of irreparable harm absent interim relief; a balance of equities in the plaintiff's favor; and service of the public interest.

The food companies and farms also filed a number of declarations to support their motion.

That includes a declaration from Triumph President and CEO Matthew England.

His declaration pointed to a host of concerns about the companies' and farms' ability to comply with the Massachusetts law.

"The defendants, along with businesses and distributors throughout the state of Massachusetts, recognize the overall impending pork shortage to their state that is about to take place," England said.

"To aid in mitigating this forthcoming shortage, the defendants agreed to allow the sale and shipment of non-compliant whole pork meat into Massachusetts so long as it is 'in the supply chain' as of today, Aug. 23, 2023. They also agreed to pursue amended regulations to allow for transshipment through the rest of New England and surrounding states. However, they have not gone so far yet as to agree to stay Question 3 enforcement while Triumph's motion for preliminary injunction is litigated or even while they pursue the proposed transshipment regulations amendment."

England said the supply of fresh pork will be "depleted" quickly.

"Due to Triumph's inability to control sales of pork that it processes and variables such as which Massachusetts customers can accept frozen pork versus fresh whole pork meat, it is unknown how much of the fresh or frozen whole pork meat will ultimately be available to Massachusetts customers after today, Aug. 23, 2023," he said in the declaration.

"I do know the supply is limited and the back-piled frozen product is shrinking by the day due to the competing demands from California and will imminently be gone."

The animal welfare groups asked the court to deny a preliminary injunction saying in their motion, "nearly identical requests for preliminary injunctions" were denied in two challenges to California's Proposition 12, a law "substantially" the same as Question 3.

"Many of plaintiffs' claims fail because they proceed from the same faulty premise -- that the U.S. Constitution precludes state laws with upstream practical effects on out-of-state market participants whose products are sold in the regulating state," the groups said.

"But the act draws no discriminatory distinction between in-state and out-of-state entities."

Read more on DTN:

"Farms Launch Legal Fight Over Hog Welfare Law,"…

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Todd Neeley

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