Supreme Court to Consider Prop 12 Case

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear California Proposition 12 Petition by Farm Groups

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider the constitutionality of California's Proposition 12. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear the case brought against California's Proposition 12 by the National Pork Producer Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, essentially bans the sale of pork from hogs that fail to meet the state's new production standards.

The ag groups' petition, filed in September 2021, followed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 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.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement it was important for the court to consider a case that affects the entire pork industry.

"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," Duvall said.

"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."

NPPC President Terry Wolters said in a statement the group was "extremely pleased" at the court's decision because the law would "stifle interstate and international commerce" by regulating producers outside of California.

"NPPC has poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into preserving the rights of America's pork producers to raise hogs in a way that's best for their animals' well-being and that allows them to continue selling pork to all consumers, both here and internationally," Wolters said.

At the end of January, a California court halted the enforcement of Proposition 12, moving back enforcement of the animal-welfare law to six months after rules are finalized.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is more than two years late in finalizing rules for the law that places animal-welfare restrictions on pork producers who sell products in the state.

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.

In July, the Ninth Circuit said in its ruling that although 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 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.

Back in March 2021, Rabobank said in a report the U.S. pork industry faces a daunting task to comply with Proposition 12 if the legal challenge comes up short.

"With less than 4% of the U.S. sow housing currently able to meet the new standard, Rabobank expects a shortfall in compliant pork to bifurcate the U.S. market, leaving California with a severe pork deficit (and high prices), while generating a surplus in the rest of the U.S. market," the report said.

The NPPC, AFBF and other ag groups have said farmers face a daunting task to continue selling pork to California. Pork producers would need to switch to alternative sow housing systems, requiring billions of dollars in sow-barn conversions or building new barns.

Read more on DTN:

"Calif. Court Halts Prop 12 Enforcement," https://www.dtnpf.com/….

"Rabobank: Prop 12 Disrupts Hog Supply," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley