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Meat Institute challenges California’s Prop 12

Lawsuit asks court to halt implementation of law with stricter animal welfare standards for egg layers, veal calves and hogs.

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) filed a lawsuit Oct. 4 challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 12 (Prop 12): The Farm Animal Confinement Initiative. NAMI opposes the law because it will have an impact on the nation’s food value chain by significantly increasing costs for producers and consumers.

“Prop 12 hurts the family on a budget with higher prices for pork, veal and eggs and unfairly punishes livestock producers outside of California by forcing them to spend millions more just to access California markets,” NAMI president and chief executive officer Julie Anna Potts said. “We are a highly efficient and unified economy in this country, and so that’s just not right. 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.”

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, asks the court to halt implementation of the law (grant a preliminary injunction) 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. Prop 12 violates each of these limitations, the suit says.

Enacted in November 2018, Prop 12 imposes space requirements on breeding pigs and veal calves within California. 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, according to the suit. As a result, Prop 12 sets confinement standards for how pigs and veal calves are raised anywhere in the U.S. or in any foreign country.

Last, Prop 12 imposes substantial burdens on the interstate markets for pork and veal that are not justified by legitimate local interests, NAMI explained. 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 the space requirements of Prop 12. 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, the group added.

Prop 12 exposes companies to potential criminal penalties and the threat of civil lawsuits filed by competitors and others. Given these legal threats and the unacceptable burden on interstate commerce Prop 12 imposes by dictating to livestock producers throughout the country how to raise their livestock, NAMI said its lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the law’s enforcement.

NAMI said in a statement that, according to the state of California’s own economic analysis, consumer prices are likely to increase because producers will have to spend to expand or construct new animal housing that may cost more to operate in the long term. The state acknowledges that it may take several years for farmers to comply, resulting in a shortfall of products and increased prices for consumers.

In June, NAMI submitted public comments regarding Prop 12 calling for postponement of the law’s implementation so multiple problems affecting consumers and producers may be addressed.

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