By DOUG SCHMITZ
DES MOINES, Iowa – The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case against California’s Proposition 12 filed by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The mandate, which became effective Jan. 1, prohibits the sale of pork from hogs born to sows – anywhere in the world – not raised by the state’s housing standards. This also applies to any uncooked pork sold in the state.
“We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Proposition 12 (often called Prop. 12), in which California seeks to impose regulations targeting farming practices outside its borders that would stifle interstate and international commerce,” said Terry Wolters, president of the National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines, Iowa.
“The National Pork Producers Council has poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into preserving the rights of America’s pork producers to raise hogs in a way that’s best for their animals’ well-being, and that allows them to continue selling pork to all consumers, both here and internationally,” he added.
Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president, said, “We share California’s goal of ensuring animals are well cared for, but Prop. 12 fails to advance that goal.
“We look forward to presenting the facts to the Court, including how Prop. 12 hamstrings farmers’ efforts to provide a safe environment for their animals, while harming small family farms and raising pork prices across the country,” he said. “One state’s misguided law should not dictate farming practices for an entire nation.”
In January, a California judge delayed enforcement of Prop. 12 for pork retailers and grocers until 180 days after the California Department of Food and Agriculture puts its final regulations in place, which include implementing a registration process for identifying and tracking the location of animal production facilities doing business or potentially doing business in California.
The National Pork Producers Council said less than 1 percent of U.S. pork production meets Prop. 12 requirements, which Wolters said is a troubling statistic since California represents 15 percent of the U.S. pork market.
“Prop. 12 sets arbitrary animal housing standards that lack any scientific, technical or agricultural basis, and that will only inflict economic harm on U.S. hog farmers and consumers,” he said.
To continue selling pork to the nearly 40 million consumers who live in California, pork producers would need to switch to alternative sow housing systems, the National Pork Producers Council said.
Moreover, industry estimates for converting sow barns or building new ones to meet the Prop. 12 standards are in the billions of dollars, the National Pork Producers Council added. Even with farmers bearing most of the costs, consumers in California and across the nation will eventually see higher pork prices.
Since November 2018, when the ballot initiative was approved, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation has argued at the U.S. district and appellate court levels Prop. 12 violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the power to regulate trade among the states, and limits the states’ ability to regulate commerce outside their borders.
According to the National Pork Producers Council, the high court is taking up the case on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which upheld a lower court ruling last July against the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation’s lawsuit.
The appeals court found that despite the organizations plausibly alleging Prop. 12 “will have dramatic upstream effects and require pervasive changes to the pork industry nationwide,” 9th Circuit precedent didn’t allow the case to continue, according to the National Pork Producers Council.
That precedent, however, runs counter to numerous Supreme Court decisions and is in conflict with nearly every other federal circuit court, the group added.
In addition to its legal efforts, the National Pork Producers Council weighed in on problems with the initial proposal implementing regulations for Prop. 12, including “an unworkable annual certification of hog farms’ compliance with the initiative’s requirements.”
Ernie Birchmeier, Michigan Farm Bureau senior industry relations specialist, said if enacted, Prop. 12 would cause massive ripple effects on how pork producers across the country would have to operate to sell their products in California, as well as increase costs for producers and consumers at a time when families are already facing the crushing effects of inflation.
“For California to implement this measure is going to lead to higher costs for California consumers,” he said. “They don’t produce enough of their own pork to feed their own consumers, so it’s all going to have to come in from the outside.”
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said, “As the country’s top pork-producing state, Iowa’s farmers take great pride in caring for their animals, and producing a high-quality, nutritious and affordable source of protein for consumers. California represents 15 percent of U.S. pork production. Iowa farmers need access to this market.
“California politicians and activists cannot regulate activities outside of their borders, let alone Iowa farmers,” he added. “I am extremely pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 12. This decision is the first step in preserving the rights of our farmers, protecting the well-being of our livestock, and ensuring consumers have access to affordable food.”
Josh Trenary, Indiana Pork executive director, said once the U.S. Supreme Court hears the pork industry’s arguments, “we’re confident it will find that Prop. 12 violates the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which limits states’ ability to regulate commerce outside their borders.
“Indiana Pork has and will continue to stand behind the National Pork Producers Council’s efforts to preserve the rights of America’s pork producers to raise our hogs in a way that’s best for them, and that lets us continue selling pork to consumers everywhere,” he said.
“It’s time to get rid of this ill-conceived, arbitrary and unscientific mandate,” he added. “If customers demand pork produced by alternative production methods, producers can avail themselves of the opportunity to meet that need voluntarily. They don’t need a state telling them what to do.”
In the coming weeks, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation will file their initial brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, which could hear oral arguments in the fall, and could render a decision by the end of the year.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case is certainly a step in the right direction,” Birchmeier said. “We continue to work together as an industry to provide the correct information to make sure production standards are based upon science, and what’s best for livestock and agriculture.”