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Pork producers lose challenge to California animal cruelty law
Supreme Court won’t intervene in law producers say will change pork industry
WASHINGTON — Turning aside challengers including the Iowa-based National Pork Council, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge Thursday to a California animal cruelty law that pork producers say will force industrywide changes and raise the cost of bacon and other pork products nationwide.
California’s law requires more space for breeding pigs, and producers say it would force the $26 billion-a-year industry to change its practices even though pork is produced almost entirely outside California.
The justices upheld, 5-4, lower court rulings dismissing the pork producers' case.
“While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for a majority that included Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Brett M. Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson would have kept the case involving California’s humane pork production laws alive, but sent it back to a lower court for more work.
During arguments in the case in October before the Supreme Court, liberal and conservative justices underscored the potential reach of the case. Some worried whether greenlighting the animal cruelty law would give state legislators a license to pass laws targeting practices they disapprove of, such as a law that says a product cannot be sold in the state if workers who made it are not vaccinated or are not in the country legally. They also worried about the reverse: How many state laws would be called into question if California's law were not permitted?
The case before the court involved California’s Proposition 12, which voters passed in 2018. It said that pork sold in the state needs to come from pigs whose mothers were raised with at least 24 square feet of space, with the ability to lie down and turn around. That rules out confined “gestation crates,” metal enclosures that are common in the pork industry.
The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation sued. They said that while Californians consume 13 percent of the pork eaten in the United States, nearly 100 percent of it comes from hogs raised outside the state, mostly in the Midwest and North Carolina. The vast majority of sows, meanwhile, are not raised under conditions that would meet Proposition 12′s standards.
“We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion. Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation,” said a statement from Scott Hays, the pork producers’ council president. “We are still evaluating the Court’s full opinion to understand all the implications. NPPC will continue to fight for our nation’s pork farmers and American families against misguided regulations.”
U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, a Marion Republican, previously had introduced the “EATS Act” — the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression Act that would bar states and local governments from imposing rules that interfere with the production of agricultural products in other states.
“California liberals think that bacon is grown at the grocery store,” Hinson said then.
Thursday, Hinson tweeted that she disagrees with the court’s decision to let the California law take affect.
“Pig farmers in Iowa take care of their animals & the environment and produce high quality products,” she wrote. “I’ll soon be reintroducing legislation to stop this bacon ban!”
The Biden administration had urged the justices to side with pork producers, telling the court in written filings that Proposition 12 would be a “wholesale change in how pork is raised and marketed in this country” and that it has “thrown a giant wrench" into the nation's pork market.
Pork producers argue that 72 percent of farmers use individual pens for sows that do not allow them to turn around — and that even farmers who house sows in larger group pens do not provide the space California would require.
They also say that the way the pork market works, with cuts of meat from various producers being combined before sale, it is likely all pork would have to meet California standards, regardless of where it is sold. Complying with Proposition 12 could cost the industry $290 to $350 million, they said.
The Washington Post contributed to this article.