Late Friday, Judge Christina A. Snyder of the Central District of California rejected a request by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) to issue a preliminary injunction against Proposition 12 that establishes additional space requirements for egg-laying hens, gestating sows and veal.
In November 2018, the ballot proposition in California established new minimum requirements on farmers, mandating cage-free standards for all egg-laying hens as well as additional space for sow gestation crates and calves raised for veal. California businesses will be banned from selling eggs or uncooked pork or veal that came from animals housed in ways that do not meet these requirements beginning in 2020.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, asked the court to halt implementation of the law because Prop 12 violates the Commerce Clause and the federal structure of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution prohibits states from discriminating against interstate and foreign commerce, regulating commerce outside of their borders or imposing undue burdens on interstate and foreign commerce. The Meat Institute challenged Prop 12 violates each of these limitations.
NAMI also argued that Prop 12 hurts the family on a budget with higher prices for pork, veal and eggs and unfairly punishes livestock producers outside California by forcing them to spend millions more just to access California markets.
In oral arguments presented Nov. 18, NAMI also detailed that Prop 12 imposes substantial burdens on the interstate markets for pork and veal that are not justified by legitimate local interests. For example, not only does Prop 12 prohibit the sale of uncooked cuts of pork from the breeding pigs, but it prohibits the sale of meat from the offspring of those breeding pigs, even though the offspring are not subject to Prop 12’s space requirements. This sales ban means Prop 12 effectively regulates how sows and veal calves are housed everywhere in the U.S. if the meat from those animals or their offspring could be sold in California.
Following the ruling, NAMI spokeswoman Sarah Little stated, “We respect but are disappointed in the court’s decision. We will review the ruling and consider our options, which include an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”
Courts have consistently ruled in favor of California’s existing animal welfare standards for eggs produced and sold in the state, as evidenced by three unsuccessful challenges to Proposition 2, predecessor to Prop 12. In a statement, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) explained that states with sales restrictions that apply evenhandedly to in-state and out-of-state goods (such as Prop 12) have withstood legal challenges throughout the country. “Based on well-established precedent, HSUS is confident this current challenge will suffer the same fate as the attempts that came before it,” HSUS said.
Retailers are already faced with significant challenges in implementing the patchwork policies. Judson Armentrout, commodity management coordinator at one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, The Kroger Co., explained that costs will go up as it manages the new California requirements for meat and eggs sold in the state. He said his plant that services the Ralph’s and Food for Less divisions in California also services Fry’s and Smith’s in Arizona and New Mexico.
He has been faced with deciding whether the company runs one program that covers everything but at a higher cost, “which eats into margins and affects what we’re able to offer customers on pricing, or do we segregate that supply chain off and force California to pay for what they’re forcing on their own constituents?”
Kroger has made a company-wide commitment to transition to crate free for gestating sows by 2025. Armentrout said they’ve been working with their major suppliers -- Smithfield, JBS, Cargill and Tyson -- to understand where they’re at in their own commitments and set their targets based on where those suppliers were already working towards.
“It doesn’t make sense for us as a retailer -- as large as we are with as much product as we need to buy on a weekly basis -- to put constraints on the industry that causes us supply constraints,” Armentrout said.
Yet, California’s Prop 12 calls for all gestating sows to be crate free by 2020.