WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court ruled against the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation in its challenge of California’s Proposition 12 animal confinement law.
In its opinion, the high court upheld the previous decisions by lower courts. With the lawsuit, NPPC and AFBF argued that the California measure violated the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
“Companies that choose to sell products in various states must normally comply with the laws of those various states,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in the court ruling. “Assuredly, under this court’s dormant Commerce Clause decisions, no state may use its laws to discriminate purposefully against out-of-state economic interests. But the pork producers do not suggest that California’s law offends this principle. Instead, they invite us to fashion two new and more aggressive constitutional restrictions on the ability of states to regulate goods sold within their borders. We decline that invitation. While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”
NPPC vowed to continue to oppose what it considers to be detrimental legislation in its response to the ruling.
"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 Scott Hays, president of the NPPC. “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.”
The decision by the court was 5-4 with dissention from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The Prop 12 ballot initiative was approved by California voters in 2018 and barred the sales of eggs or raw pork or veal sourced from animals housed in ways that do not meet California’s minimum standards.
Under Prop 12, producers of veal calves are required to house animals with at least 43 sq. ft. of usable floor space per calf. Producers of sows need a minimum of 24 sq. ft. of usable space per animal and laying hens are cage-free.
During the next year, NPPC and AFBF filed their initial lawsuit with the main argument being that the measure would impose animal housing standards beyond California’s borders.
NPPC and AFBF filed a lawsuit with the high court following a ruling against them in July 2021 from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
In its reply brief to the Supreme Court before oral arguments, NPPC and the AFBF said that Californians consume 13% of the pork in the United States.
The Biden Administration’s Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar sided with the agricultural trade groups in June 2022 before oral arguments began in October.
The North American Meat Institute said in a statement that the court’s decision unfairly saddles the industry with additional costs.
“Prop 12 remains a costly burden to producers and provides no benefit to animals or consumers,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of the Meat Institute. “We are disappointed in the Court’s decision and will carefully study the ruling to determine next steps.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) issued a statement expressing its support for the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We’re delighted that the Supreme Court has upheld California Proposition 12 – the nation’s strongest farm animal welfare law – and made clear that preventing animal cruelty and protecting public health are core functions of our state governments,” said Kitty Block, HSUS president and chief executive officer. “We are grateful to our many outstanding allies who helped make Proposition 12 a success.”