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Judge denies Meat Institute's Prop 12 challenge

TAGS: Policy
NPPC and AFBF challenge still underway on behalf of pork producers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th circuit rejected the North American Meat Institute’s challenge on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 12. However, a legal challenge in a different California court brought by the National Pork Producers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation continues.

In addition to banning the use of cages on California farms, Proposition 12 prohibits the sale of eggs, pork and veal from cage confinement systems—regardless of where the animals were raised. The Meat Institute said it opposes the law because it will hurt the nation’s food value chain by significantly increasing costs for producers and consumers.

“If this unconstitutional law is allowed to stand, California will dictate farming practices across the nation. California’s overreach creates an unworkable patchwork of differing state regulations that will make it impossible for the supply chain, from small farmers to your local grocer, to function,” said Meat Institute president and chief executive officer Julie Anna Potts at the time of the court filing in October 2019.

Enacted in November 2018, Prop 12 imposes space requirements regarding breeding pigs and veal calves within California. The Meat Institute said Prop 12 creates a barrier to trade by imposing obligations on out-of-state competitors in an effort to assist local producers of pork and veal. Prop 12 reaches beyond the state’s borders by prohibiting the sale in California of uncooked pork or veal from animals housed in ways that do not meet California’s requirements. As a result, Prop 12 sets confinement standards for how pigs and veal calves are raised anywhere in the United States or in any foreign country.

Following the news that the court had denied an injunction, Meat Institute spokeswoman Sarah Little stated, “We are disappointed in the ruling and are reviewing our options. California should not be able to dictate farming practices across the nation.”

However, the lead advocate for the amendment, the Humane Society of the United States, welcomed the judge’s ruling. “We’re pleased that the judicial system has again affirmed that each state has the right to ban the sale of products within its borders produced through cruel factory farming methods,” said Rebecca Cary, senior staff attorney at the Humane Society of the United States. “Rather than continuing to squander their members’ money on losing frivolous lawsuits, the meat industry trade groups should instead invest in improving animal welfare and complying with animal cruelty laws. The Humane Society and our allies will keep fighting in courts, legislatures and corporate boardrooms to stop the horrific practice of locking farm animals in cages so small and cramped they barely move.”

Michael Formica, assistance vice president and general counsel at NPPC, said their separate lawsuit continues in the courts. They filed an opening brief on Sept. 23, followed by the amicus brief on Sept. 30. A total of 20 state attorneys general jointly filed in support of NPPC and AFBF. HSUS will be required to file their brief by Oct. 23. The final brief for NPPC and AFBF is due Nov. 13.

Formica said a key difference in the lawsuits is that the Meat Institute challenge is on behalf of processors, while the NPPC/AFBF one represents hog farmers. Although there is a substantial dairy and poultry and egg processing in the state of California, there is virtually no pork production in the state.

Formica added that they feel they have a strong case because the requirements in Proposition 12 would mandate if a sow was ever confined in a space less than 24 sq. ft. to never be used for the production of meat in California. “There are no farms that comply,” he said of the standard set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. Even those facilities that do have open pens it is only for 18-19 sq. ft. per animal.

In addition, California was supposed to issue implementing legislation for pork producer by Sept. 1, 2019, and they’ve not yet proposed those regulations. It takes about a year from the time proposed to the time to finish regulations. “If they were to propose something tomorrow, we would see the final regulations coming out in mid-October of next year, or just two months before everyone would have to be compliant, which is not a lot of time especially if we have to rebreed our herds,” Formica added.

Formica said oral arguments likely won’t occur until January, so a final decision may not even be known until May 2021 if it follows a similar timeline to the Meat Institute challenge.

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