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Foes of California’s Prop 12 get their day in Supreme Court

The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear a farm-group challenge that says California’s animal welfare rules pose an unconstitutional burden on farmers and consumers throughout the nation.

Approved by voters in a landslide in 2018, Proposition 12 requires California farmers to give more room to sows and egg-laying hens, and bars the sale of meat produced on farms outside the state that do not match California’s standards.

“One state’s misguided law should not dictate farming practices for an entire nation,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Terry Wolters, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said 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.”

Justices could hear arguments in the case this fall and rule before the end of the year, said the NPPC, which has members throughout the pork supply chain. The AFBF, the largest U.S. farm group, and NPPC asked for Supreme Court review last fall after losing challenges at the trial and appellate court levels.

Prop 12 has been repeatedly challenged in court, usually as a violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but has withstood attack; most recently last June 28 when the Supreme Court refused to hear a meat industry appeal.

It requires hog farmers to provide 24 square feet of space for each of their sows to move about in, except for the few days before they give birth and for three weeks afterward, until their piglets are born. So-called sow crates, which greatly restrict movement of sows, are a common practice on hog farms.

Two months ago, a California state judge barred enforcement of Prop 12 for months in to the future.

By statute, Prop 12 took effect on January 1 but the California Department of Food and Agriculture has not issued regulations that spell out the obligations of farmers, processors, and retailers. Superior Court Judge James Arguelles ruled Prop 12 cannot be enforced until 180 days after its regulations become final.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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