LISTEN: Supreme Court hears animal welfare arguments in hog industry and death penalty case

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court weighs a California animal cruelty law which pork producers believe could disrupt their industry and increase the cost of their products nationwide.

Listen in the player above.

But in Tuesday’s arguments, the judges appeared to have bigger concerns beyond the bacon.

Pork producers say California’s law requiring more space for breeding pigs will force the $26 billion-a-year industry to change its practices, even though the pork is produced almost entirely outside of California. The question for the High Court is whether the nation’s most populous state violated the US Constitution with its law.

During more than two hours of arguments, both conservative and liberal justices asked questions about the fate of other state laws that impact other states.

“So what about a law that says you can’t sell fruit in our state if it’s produced – handled by people who aren’t legally in the country? Is this state law allowed? asked Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Her colleague, Judge Elena Kagan, pointed to a law from the state where she grew up: “I understand that New York has a law that says if you want to bring firewood into the state, you must have used some type of pesticide. to ensure that various pests do not enter with the firewood,” she said. “Would that be forbidden?”

READ MORE: Supreme Court takes on animal welfare in challenge to California law requiring pork to be raised humanely

And Judge Amy Coney Barrett asked if California could pass a law banning pork from companies that “do not require all of their employees to be vaccinated or companies that do not fund gender-affirming surgery.”

Yet she also expressed concern about the impact if the court were to say the California law is inadmissible.

“How many other laws would fall, that it might affect?” she asked. Would the court challenge “many laws that are quite common?

The case in court concerns California’s Proposition 12, which voters passed in 2018. It said pork sold in the state must come from pigs whose dams were raised with at least 24 square feet of fat. space, including the ability to lie down and turn around. around. This excludes confined “gestation crates”, metal enclosures common in the swine industry.

Two industry groups, the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, have pursued this proposal. They say that while Californians consume 13% of the pork consumed in the United States, almost 100% of it comes from pigs raised outside the state, mainly where the industry is concentrated in the Midwest and Carolina. North. The vast majority of sows, meanwhile, are not raised in conditions that would meet Proposition 12 standards.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson summed up the issue by saying, “How much control does California have over what Iowa does in terms of housing its pig? She asked why California couldn’t do something less taxing on the industry, like “separate pork from Iowa when it arrives, putting a big label on it saying ‘This is produced unethically.'”

The Biden administration has urged judges to side with pork producers, telling the court in written documents that Proposition 12 would be a “comprehensive change in the way pork is raised and marketed in this country.” The administration says the proposal has “thrown a giant wrench into the operation of the interstate pork market.”

READ MORE: Meat processing industry worked with Trump administration to stay open during COVID crisis, House report says

Hog producers say 72% of farmers use individual pens for sows that don’t allow them to turn around, and even farmers who house sows in larger group pens don’t provide the space that California Would need.

They also say the way the pork market works, with meat cuts from various producers combined before sale, it’s likely that all pork should meet California standards, regardless of where it’s sold. Complying with Proposition 12 could cost the industry $290 million to $350 million, they say.

So far, lower courts have sided with California and animal welfare groups that backed the proposal, dismissing the pork producers’ case. But the law has not yet entered into force.

Several of the judges suggested that the lower courts had been too quick to dismiss the case. They suggested he should have moved forward with lower courts weighing the impact of the California law and California’s interests in passing it.

Justice Kavanaugh suggested this would be “the easiest way to resolve this issue at this time, and we can deal with a lot of these high-profile arguments down the road.”

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