Farms Launch Legal Fight Over Hog Welfare Law

Farms Argue Massachusetts Animal-Welfare Law Regulates Producers in Other States

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
Connect with Todd:
A group of farms has sued the state of Massachusetts, challenging a new animal-welfare law. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- On the heels of California's Supreme Court victory on the state's animal-welfare law, Proposition 12, a group of farms sued the state of Massachusetts asking a federal court last week to halt a similar law in that state.

Like 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.

Now farms and pork processors, including Triumph Foods LLC, Christensen Farms Midwest LLC, The Hanor Company of Wisconsin LLC, New Fashion Pork LLC, Eichelberger Farms Inc. and Allied Producers' Cooperative, have asked a federal court to prevent the enforcement of the law they say will have a negative effect on hog farmers across the country.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on July 25, raises many of the same issues litigated by the National Pork Producers Council and other plaintiffs in a legal fight against California's Prop 12. That law was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.

Though the legal issues raised are virtually identical, the potential market effects from the Massachusetts law are not as far-reaching as with Prop 12.

Massachusetts consumers eat about 357 million pounds of pork annually, compared to 2.7 billion pounds in California. California accounts for about 13% of all pork consumption in the U.S., whereas Massachusetts consumes about 2% of all U.S. pork.

Though the Massachusetts law likely affects a smaller segment of all U.S. pork producers than Prop 12, the farms filing the lawsuit argue the act violates the Constitution by regulating farms in other states.

In fact, when Massachusetts voters approved Question 3 in November 2016, not a single gestation crate was used by hog producers in the state -- meaning the law applies to farms outside the state's borders.


The farms said they are unable to keep up with production of compliant pork demand in Massachusetts and California.

"Currently, Massachusetts customers demand more compliant product than what Triumph and the farmer plaintiffs have available or could possibly ever make available because Massachusetts' requirements are really a subset of California's, and the industry already does not have enough for California," the new lawsuit said.

"Because Proposition 12 has been implemented and threatens criminal enforcement now, almost all Proposition 12 pork has been diverted to California. This leaves little Question 3-compliant pork available for Massachusetts, as the industry does not have sufficient volume of Proposition 12 compliant pork required to supply California's demand."

The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act resulting from Question 3 in Massachusetts 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 lawsuit said the act defines "confined in a cruel manner" as confining a "breeding pig in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal's limbs or turning around freely."

The law also makes it unlawful for a business owner or operator to "knowingly engage in the sale within the commonwealth of Massachusetts of any whole pork meat that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the meat of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner or is the meat of the immediate offspring of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner."


During the legal fight on Prop 12, the National Pork Producers Council argued the law regulates hog-production practices in states other than California, in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause. It was a legal argument the Supreme Court didn't buy.

The farms in the Massachusetts lawsuit make the same case.

The lawsuit said the sale of whole pork meat is a "nationwide, regulated commodity" and the interstate pork market is "wholly interconnected."

The farms said not only do the Massachusetts law and regulations affect pig farmers, but their "regulatory impact flows through the complex supply chain to pork processing operations and interferes with the federal government's role, who is already tasked with ensuring that any pork product that enters the interstate market is wholesome and fit for human consumption."

The plaintiffs said the Massachusetts act is unconstitutional because of its application to out-of-state farmers.

The lawsuit said the law will have a "direct impact" on farming practices, processing standards, nationwide pricing of pork, the national pork supply, and consumers nationwide.

"Despite making up a large percentage of the national consumer market, Massachusetts itself had as little as 1,500 breeding sows as of 2022, with only 6,000 total market hogs," the lawsuit said.

"Relatedly, Massachusetts also has a miniscule number of farms that produce pigs. As of 2017, the total number of pig farmers in Massachusetts was about 336."

Only eight Massachusetts pig farmers had a herd size of 200 or more, meaning that as of 2017, about 78% of Massachusetts pig farmers have the smallest possible pig operation.

"In the first quarter of 2023, Missouri and Iowa -- the two states that Triumph operates out of and receives a large quantity of its market hogs for processing from -- had 450,000 breeding sows and 900,000 breeding sows, respectively," the lawsuit said.

"The volume Massachusetts demands to feed its population would well exceed the amount of pork that Massachusetts can produce and sell intrastate from Massachusetts farms, given the small number of breeding sows in Massachusetts. That volume produced within Massachusetts, assuming it is sold and remains in Massachusetts, is estimated at only 1.9 million pounds of retail pork in 2022.

"Therefore, the burden of the act falls almost entirely upon out-of-state producers and processors, and, in effect, the act regulates pork production and processing throughout the United States, not just in Massachusetts."

As is the case with Prop 12 in California, the Massachusetts law requires inspections of hog facilities exporting to Massachusetts to ensure compliance with the act.

"The act's minimum size requirements are inconsistent with pork industry practices and standards, generations of farming experience, scientific research, and the consensus standards of other states," the lawsuit said.

"The act will impose costly mandates that substantially interfere with commerce among the states in hog and pork markets. It will impose substantial burdens on pig farmers and pork processors primarily outside of Massachusetts, ultimately having a direct impact on the price of pork for all Americans -- the vast majority of whom had no say in the act -- in the interstate pork market. It will take years and cost at least tens of millions of dollars for pig farmers to come into compliance with the regulations."

The act remains on a court stay until Aug. 23, according to the lawsuit.

Read more on DTN:

"SCOTUS Lets Proposition 12 Stand,"….

Todd Neeley can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
Connect with Todd: