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Judge rules Q3 exemption discriminates against out-of-state pork processors

Triumph Foods hopeful supply chain disruption comes to end soon; lawsuit goes beyond pigs and pork chops.

Ann Hess

February 8, 2024

3 Min Read
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A federal judge in the District of Massachusetts has ruled that a slaughterhouse exemption to Question 3 is discriminatory to out-of-state pork processors, such as Triumph Foods, and violates the dormant Commerce Clause. On Monday, Judge William Young ordered the provision severed from the rest of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act and granted the pork producers 30 days to move for summary judgment on the ground that the act is now preempted by the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

This is just the latest development in a lawsuit, brought forth by Triumph Foods; Christensen Farms Midwest, LLC; The Hanor Company of Wisconsin, LLC; New Fashion Pork, LLP; Eichelberger Farms, Inc.; and Allied Producers' Cooperative in July 2023, challenging Q3 as well as the overall constitutionality of similar laws such as California’s Proposition 12.

Passed by Massachusetts voters on Nov. 8, 2016, Q3 imposes confinement requirements on out-of-state pork producers and prohibits the sale of pork meat within the state from offspring of an animal confined in a manner inconsistent with Massachusetts' requirements, regardless of where in the nation the animal was raised.

The Q3 exemption applied only to in-state inspected facilities who sell noncompliant pork to buyers who then take possession of the product at that establishment. For example, if a Massachusetts FMIA-inspected pork processer sold non-compliant pork on its premises to a grocery store, that sale would be exempt. However, if the store then attempted to sell that non-compliant pork in-store that would be covered under the act.

Triumph Foods pointed out as an out-of-state pork processor it cannot take advantage of this exemption, because it ships its product into the state and buyers do not “take physical possession” of product while at its facilities.

Judge Young concurred, noting, “the only way Triumph would be able to take advantage of the slaughterhouse exception would be to open its own federally inspected facility within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which the Supreme Court has held violates the Commerce Clause. Instead, Triumph and other out-of-state pork processors must face higher costs to sell pork into Massachusetts than those of their counterparts in Massachusetts.”

“We are thrilled on the progress this ruling has brought for the industry, but it is more meaningful than just pigs and pork chops. The USDA has consistently ensured that Americans have access to the safest food products in the world, and this process should not be infringed by individual state laws, as food offerings should be driven by consumer choices,” said Matt England, president and CEO of Triumph Foods. “We look forward to demonstrating how the remaining portion of the law intrudes into the federal government’s role, and are hopeful the disruption to the country's supply chain soon comes to an end.”

In October, 13 state attorneys general filed a brief in support of the Q3 plaintiffs, contending the new ban will drive many pork producers out of business and dramatically raise pork prices. The coalition also says the new ban sets a dangerous precedent that would allow states to upend markets across the nation based on their political agendas.

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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