Ag Groups Appeal to SCOTUS on Prop 12

Ag Groups Tell Supreme Court Prop 12 Violates Commerce Clause, Threatens Farms

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation have appealed to the Supreme Court on California's Proposition 12. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday to consider their challenge to California's Proposition 12, which would ban the sale of pork from hogs that don't meet the state's new production standards.

The ag groups' petition comes on the heels of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's July 2020 ruling that upheld a lower court ruling against the groups. The ag groups had asked the Ninth Circuit for an injunction to stop the law from taking effect.

The law requires hog producers to abide by certain regulations to sell pork in California. Voters in the state passed Proposition 12 in 2018 with nearly 63% of votes supporting it. 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.

"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," NPPC President Jen Sorenson said in a statement.

"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."

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

AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a statement that though supporters of Proposition 12 have argued the measure improves animal welfare and safety, the law "fails to address" either issue.

"Farmers know the best way to care for their animals," he said.

"This law takes away the flexibility to ensure hogs are raised in a safe environment while driving up the cost of providing food for America's families. Small family farms well beyond California's borders will be hit hardest as they are forced to make expensive and unnecessary changes to their operations. This will lead to more consolidation in the pork industry and higher prices at the grocery store, meaning every family in America will ultimately pay the price for Prop. 12."

In July, the Ninth Circuit said in its ruling that though Proposition 12 would have "dramatic upstream effects and require pervasive changes to the pork industry nationwide," the court ruled its own precedent wouldn't allow the ag groups' case to continue.

As of Jan. 1, 2022, Proposition 12 will prohibit 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.

"First, it is impermissibly extraterritorial," the groups said in their petition to the Supreme Court.

"California imports 99.87% of its pork. Because of the nature of the pork industry and its product -- a pig progresses through multiple facilities outside California as it is raised and is processed into many different cuts of meat that are sold across the country -- Proposition 12 in practical effect regulates wholly out-of-state commerce.

"It requires massive and costly alteration to existing sow housing nationwide, necessitates either reduction of herd sizes or building of new facilities to meet its space mandates, raises prices in transactions with no California connection, drives farms out of business and promotes industry consolidation, and will be policed by intrusive inspections of out-of-state farms conducted by California's agents."

In a news release, the ag groups said in order for farmers to continue selling pork to 40 million consumers in California, or about 15% of the U.S. pork market, pork producers would need to switch to alternative sow housing systems. To do so would require making billions of dollars in sow-barn conversions or building new barns, "with consumers bearing the ultimate cost through higher pork prices."

Read more on DTN:

"Prop 12 Pork Shortages Expected in CA,"…

"Rabobank: Prop 12 Disrupts Hog Supply,"…

"Ag Groups Make Case v. Proposition 12,"…

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Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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