LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Though the Supreme Court upheld Proposition 12 last week, farmers' resolve to continue raising hogs using time-tested methods has only been strengthened.
In a 5-4 ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court kept California's law in place despite evidence the animal-welfare measure will affect how farmers across the country raise hogs.
Scott Hays, Missouri hog farmer and president of the National Pork Producers Council said Friday he intends to stand his ground in raising hogs the way his family has for generations.
"Our concern is: What if other states start adopting these type of rules?," he said during a press briefing.
"How long can we continue to raise pigs the way that we think they need to be raised? My dad and grandpa had housed sows this way years ago and we decided then that was not the way we wanted to take care of our animals or our farm. Other farms have decided to do it differently and that's fine, but we like to give our animals individual care and so at this time, we will not be changing our operation."
Proposition 12 makes it a criminal offense and civil violation to sell whole pork meat in California unless the pig is born to a sow that was housed within 24 square feet of space and in conditions that allow a sow to turn around without touching an enclosure. Proposition 12 applies to any uncooked pork sold in the state, regardless of whether it was raised in California.
"What they said was a state can impose their moral standard on another state," Hays said.
"Where does that stop? The big changes are moving animals into group housing ... where the females will be housed in groups. This increases the square footage and there's no science behind the square footage. This 24-square feet -- we don't know where California got that number."
As congressional leadership continues work on the next farm bill, the court's decision has caught the attention of federal lawmakers and others. With the courts not willing to step in on Proposition 12, NPPC officials said on Friday that they are willing to consider all options to protect the industry.
There has been discussion among members of Congress and the industry about the possibility of including language in the upcoming farm bill that would address animal-welfare issues and state laws.
NPPC CEO Bryan Humphreys said the ruling comes at a time when producers are struggling.
"Let's be honest with each other," he said, "the industry is in a tough time and this ruling comes in a difficult [period] for our industry, where we are facing high input costs and some of the most challenging economic times the pork industry has seen in 20 years. So, it's not only a difficult ruling, it's a difficult time for our industry to navigate through this."
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
Humphreys said the industry is looking for answers.
"At this time we are evaluating all of our options and there are a number of conversations going on," he said.
"And we've seen comments from members of Congress who are just as frustrated by this ruling as we are and so at this point we haven't ruled anything out but we also are continuing to evaluate that as we move forward."
Proposition 12 was put on hold pending the Supreme Court case and is set to go into effect on July 1.
NPPC Chief Legal Counsel Michael Formica said NPPC is working with California officials on questions of timing and implementation of the law.
"There is currently an injunction in place on enforcement of Proposition 12 until July 1," he said.
"But what exactly does that mean? What has to happen on July 1? There's a number of questions and we're in active discussions and communication with California trying to work through this trying to get clarity so we have minimal disruptions to the marketplace."
In addition, Proposition 12 requires audits of meat retailers to ensure they are selling compliant pork in California.
The law provides California the authority to inspect farms across the country to make sure they are compliant. According to the NPPC, California consumers eat about 13% of all U.S. pork while less than 1% of pork is produced in-state.
"California certainly has inspectors that will be ready to go out of state," Formica said.
"But my sense is they've also approved five private firms ... to conduct certifications to do those audits and provide the certification. So, I would imagine in most instances you're going to have pork producers that are working with and retaining a firm to come on and inspect their facilities."
Though the Supreme Court voted narrowly to uphold Proposition 12, the majority of justices noted in their opinions the law likely will affect the hog industry.
"Perhaps what's most disappointing is that a majority of the Supreme Court agreed with us that Prop 12 is causing or will cause significant harm to interstate commerce, especially to the U.S. pork industry," Formica said.
"Unfortunately, we knew this going in that this wasn't an easy fight to win, mostly because the areas of the constitution that we had to address and litigate over are ones that are in constant state of flux and part of a highly charged political and legal environment."
Formica said a majority of the court also agreed Proposition 12 "ultimately is a political issue."
The majority of justices believe they are not "equipped to judge and make the determinations" on political questions.
Still, Formica said he disagreed with the court's interpretation of its own limits in the Proposition 12 case.
"It gets to the heart of our republic and how our government is going to run," he said.
"But that was also understood by the founding fathers. James Madison understood this directly when he was drafting the Commerce Clause, so we're disappointed in the justices. It forces you to think that the failure of Congress to weigh in shouldn't prevent judges from being able to weigh in and draw clear boundaries between states and preserve the rights of not just states but the citizens of one state."
Humphreys said the court's ruling ultimately will hit consumers in California particularly hard because it will raise the costs of operation for farmers across the country to be able to export pork to the state.
"We didn't necessarily hope for a different outcome just for our producers and our farmers who are going to be impacted by this ruling," he said.
"We hoped for a different outcome for the consumers of California and a recognition of the burden this is gonna place on them. But ultimately, we have to remember that the court ruling is the end of our case as we move forward. American producers are known for being resilient and we have seen blows before and that we'll learn to navigate and work our way through as best as possible. But even in these challenging times never underestimate the desire of the American producer to succeed even in light of these challenging struggles that we face."
Hays summed up the frustration many hog farmers are feeling about Proposition 12.
"We've raised pigs for a long time on our farm like many producers across the Midwest," he said.
"We know we're the experts and raising pigs and now we have to raise pigs in a way that is dictated by some folks who really don't know much about it. And so, it's a challenge for us. We've been through tough times before and we'll figure this one out, as well."
Read more on DTN:
"Looking Back, Steve King Was Right About Interstate Commerce and Food," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"There's Always Congress, Pork Producers," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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