Ag Groups Challenge Calif. on Prop 12

Cattlemen's Group Asks for Federal Review of Marfrig's Purchase of National Beef Shares

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Two agriculture groups have sued the state of California in an attempt to stop the implementation of Proposition 12. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Two agriculture groups last week filed a legal challenge to a California law that requires hog producers to abide by certain regulations in order to sell pork in California. The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation asked a federal court to decide whether the state can enforce Proposition 12 against farmers in other states.

As of Jan. 1, 2022, Proposition 12 prohibits the sale of pork not produced according to California's production standards. Proposition 12 applies to any uncooked pork sold in the state, regardless of whether it was raised in California.

According to the National Pork Producers Council, less than 1% of pork produced in the United States meets Proposition 12 requirements.

During a radio interview on Monday, NPPC legal counsel Michael Formica said the state of California needs about 700,000 sows to satisfy its pork demand. About 1,500 out of California's 8,000 sows are used in commercial breeding housed in small farms.

Because the state has to import most of its sows, he said, Proposition 12 essentially regulates farmers beyond state borders.

In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego on Dec. 6 the agriculture groups asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional in violation of the commerce clause.

The law forbids the sale of whole pork meat in California from hogs born of sows not housed in conformity with the law. Proposition 12 forbids sows from being confined in such a way that they cannot lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, or turn around without touching the sides of their stalls or other animals.

"Only a miniscule portion of sows in the U.S. are housed in compliance with all of Proposition 12's requirements," the lawsuit said. "Proposition 12 institutes a wholesale change in how pork is raised and marketed in this country. Its requirements are inconsistent with industry practices and standards, generations of producer experience, scientific research, and the standards set by other states. They impose on producers costly mandates that substantially interfere with commerce among the states in hogs and whole pork meat.

"And they impose these enormous costs on pork producers, which will ultimately increase costs for American consumers, making it more difficult for families on a budget to afford this important source of protein. And they do all this for reasons that are both fallacious and vastly outweighed by the economic and social burdens the law imposes on out-of-state producers and consumers and on the authority of other states over their domestic producers."

Jen Sorenson, NPPC vice president, said the California market is an important part of the overall market for U.S. farmers.

"California represents approximately 15% of the U.S. pork market, and Proposition 12 will force hog farmers who want to sell pork into the populous state to switch to alternative housing systems, at a significant cost to their business," she said in a press statement. "U.S. pork producers are already fighting to expand market opportunities overseas. We shouldn't have to fight to preserve our domestic market, too."

AFBF General Counsel Ellen Steen said California voters passed Proposition 12 with the idea it was making animals safer.

"This law was sold to California voters as a solution to improve animal welfare and food safety, but it has nothing to do with food safety, and many animals will suffer more injury and illness under its arbitrary rules," she said.

"The best way to protect animal well-being is to allow farmers to make farm-specific and animal-specific decisions on animal care. Prop 12 will deny them that ability while driving up their costs. The hardest hit will be family farms, especially smaller independent farms. That means Prop 12 will also lead to fewer family farms and greater consolidation in the pork industry."

The lawsuit lists a number of hog farmers across the country, outlining how they would be affected by Proposition 12.

"These farmers' experiences exhibit a common theme: Proposition 12 damages producers whose product is or may be sold into California, regardless of whether they choose to comply with Proposition 12 or not," the lawsuit said.

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Todd Neeley