U.S. Supreme Court assesses impact of California animal welfare law on industry and retail prices

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The impact of California’s Animal Welfare Act Proposition 12 was hotly debated on Tuesday as the U.S. Supreme Court heard claims by lawyers representing the $26 billion pork industry that which it would cause damage to interstate commerce and pork producers.

In pleadings which lasted more than two hours, Timothy Bishop, an attorney representing the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said the California law overstepped its bounds by imposing regulations on other states on how they raise their animals.

California, the most populous state in the country, imports over 99% pork he sells. The regulation approved by voters in 2018 prohibited the sale of pork in the state from breeding pigs – as well as veal from calves and eggs from hens – if the animals were confined to areas that did not meet the requirements. specific minimum space requirements.

“No other state requires its farmers to house pigs like California does, and very few farmers do,” Bishop said.

Judge Neil Gorsuch questioned whether the claims of the NPPC and AFBF would be better served by Congress regulating how state laws apply to interstate commerce. He asked Bishop how his argument that harm would be done to interstate competition or pork sales when several large meat companies agreed to comply with Proposition 12 standards.

“We have other pork producers who say they’re perfectly happy to fill the void that your companies don’t want to fill,” Gorsuch said. “We also have one of your own members testifying that prices won’t go up for consumers outside of California because they won’t stand it.”

Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler of the Justice Department, arguing on behalf of farm groups, said the law could have far-reaching implications outside of pork production by allowing state laws to dictate national trade.

“Proposition 12 imposes a trade barrier based on driving beyond California’s borders. It does not respect the autonomy of California’s sister states,” Kneedler said.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett asked Kneedler how this differs from a New York state law requiring out-of-state firewood to be treated with a pesticide. Kneedler said raising pigs in crates does not create a “legitimate state interest” in preventing harm to citizens the way the sale of untreated firewood does.

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The impact on small farmers and consumers

Michael Mongan, the state solicitor general, represented California in oral argument. He argued that Proposition 12 was democratically chosen by 63% of Californians in a vote and that it protected both animals and humans from harmful diseases caused by raising pigs in crates.

Both sides had differing views on how Proposal 12 will affect small-scale farmers. Judge Samuel Alito asked Mongan whether small-scale pork producers would bear the brunt of the financial impact, as claimed by the NPPC and AFBF. Mongan said this is the opposite of what is happening and farmers who want to comply with Proposition 12 standards actually benefit.

“Small pork producers can choose to get a substantial premium for producing this type of specialty product [crate-free pork] or continue to produce for the other 49 states, exactly as many of their own members, as the complaint acknowledges, have decided to do,” Mongan said.

Josh Balk, vice president of animal welfare at the Humane Society, told Food Dive after the closing arguments that the pork industry had failed to prove its case. He argued that Californians shouldn’t be forced to buy pork raised in crate boxes because it can cause foodborne illness, citing claims from scientific analysts.

“When it comes to public health and food safety, states have always had the ability to ban certain products, and this case is no different,” Balk said. “The sale of pork from farms that confine a mother pig to a crate so small that she is unable to roll over is unsafe and poses threats to public health.”

Farm groups, however, refuted the argument that Proposition 12 is about health and safety.

Jonathan Urick, associate chief counsel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Litigation Center and one of the lead attorneys in the case, told Food Dive it comes down to a big state trying to impose its economic weight and its policies to the other 49.

“If the Supreme Court were to uphold this law, the result would be harmful interstate trade wars as other states try to emulate California’s regulatory strategy,” Urick said. “The results will be economically disastrous, creating a hodgepodge of conflicting state regulations and fractured American markets that are precisely what the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent.”

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