Pork industry battles California law in U.S. Supreme Court

  • Industry groups appeal ruling that backed California law
  • At issue is the Commerce Clause, the United States Constitutional provision

WASHINGTON, Oct 10 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Tuesday in an industry challenge to the constitutionality of a California animal welfare law in a case that could undermine the power of states to regulate a range of issues within their own borders.

The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation are appealing a lower court’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit seeking to strike down a 2018 ballot initiative passed by voters banning the sale in California of pork, calves and eggs from animals whose containment has not met the minimum space requirements.

The pig industry has defended the size of cages used on pig farms as humane and necessary for animal safety. Animal rights groups have said some pork producers confine mother pigs to cages so small the animals cannot turn around for most of their lives.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Industry groups have argued that the measure, called Proposition 12, violates a provision of the US Constitution known as the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, by requiring outside producers to comply or face a California sales ban. A legal doctrine called the “dormant” Commerce Clause prohibits states from passing laws that discriminate against commerce in other states.

Proposition 12 violates that doctrine, hog producers argued in a legal filing, because it would increase costs for hog farmers, almost all of whom are located outside of California. While being the most populous US state and an important market, California produces only 0.1% of the country’s pork.

“If you’re looking for an example of unconstitutional law, this is it,” said Michael Formica, chief legal strategist for Pork Producers.

Proponents of the law disagree, saying California has the right to set standards for products sold to its consumers, regardless of where they are produced.

“There’s a long history of state laws that have to do with protecting public health, food safety, and animal welfare,” said Josh Balk, vice president of animal welfare. animal husbandry at the Humane Society of the United States, which led the campaign to pass the proposal. 12 and is a party to the case. “Producers have a choice if they want to sell products within state lines that meet this standard.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, upheld a district court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit, finding no violation of the Commerce Clause.

President Joe Biden’s administration has sided with pork producers, saying in a Supreme Court brief that states cannot ban products “that pose no threat to public health or safety on the basis of philosophical objections”.


A ruling by the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, favoring the pork industry would have major implications for the interpretation of the Commerce Clause, some legal experts say.

The industry is “calling for a dramatic expansion of the doctrine in a way that would challenge all kinds of state law,” attorney Brian Frazelle of the liberal advocacy group Constitutional Accountability Center, who filed a brief in the case in the name of the law. teachers, told reporters on a conference call.

Sixteen liberal U.S. senators, including the two from California, had urged the Biden administration to back the law. They wrote that a ruling endorsing the industry’s position on the Commerce Clause “could allow large, multi-state corporations to escape many state laws that focus on harming their constituents, including including those dealing with wildlife trafficking, climate change, renewable energy, trafficking in stolen goods and labor abuses.”

A group of 20 mostly Republican-ruled states, led by Indiana, said in a brief that keeping Proposition 12 would undermine state sovereignty. Another group of 14 mostly Democratic-ruled states and the District of Columbia, led by Illinois, said overthrowing it would undermine the state’s authority to legislate.

According to Nandan Joshi, an attorney with consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which filed a brief in favor of California, a ruling favoring pork producers could inspire more industry challenges to state regulations.

Urged by animal welfare and consumer groups, many food and catering companies have already pledged to phase out small confinements for pigs and buy or produce cage-free eggs.

Proposition 12, passed with the support of about 63% of California voters, sets the space requirement for breeding pigs, or sows, at 24 square feet (2.2 square meters). The current industry standard is between 14 and 20 square feet (1.3 to 1.9 square meters), according to a 2021 report by Dutch banking and financial services company Rabobank.

The measure also increased the space required to house laying hens and calves reared for veal.

Major U.S. pork producer Smithfield Foods, owned by China’s WH Group Ltd (0288.HK), said last year it planned to comply with the law. Kansas-based Seaboard Foods, the second-largest U.S. pork producer, said this year it was converting some of its production to come into compliance.

Join now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Leah Douglas; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Lea Douglas

Thomson Reuters

Award-winning Washington-based journalist covering agriculture and energy, including competition, regulation, federal agencies, corporate consolidation, environment and climate, racial discrimination and labor, formerly at Food and Environment ReportingNetwork.

Comments are closed.