Proposition 12 (or “Prop 12”) passed in 2018, receiving overwhelming support (63%) from California voters. The ballot initiative prohibits some of the most extreme methods of farm animal confinement on farms in California and prevents the in-state sale of products derived from that cruelty. It is widely considered to be the strongest farmed animal protection law anywhere in the world.
On factory farms, egg-laying hens are crammed into cages where they can’t spread their wings. Baby calves are taken from their mothers and confined in crates so small they can barely move. Mother pigs are locked in crates barely larger than the width and length of their bodies, unable to even turn around. These conditions are not only cruel to the animals, but they also increase the spread of diseases, which then sickens people.
Prop 12 requires that eggs, veal and pork produced or sold in California comply with commonsense animal welfare and food safety standards.
I thought Prop 12 already went into law. Why is the Supreme Court now involved?
The National Pork Producers Council filed a lawsuit challenging Prop 12, asserting that the law is unconstitutional for allegedly regulating extraterritorially and imposing a substantial burden on interstate commerce. Despite losing in the lower federal courts, the case has now worked its way up on appeal to the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court of the United States (“SCOTUS”). The Court will hear oral arguments on the case on October 11, 2022.
What’s wrong with gestation crates?
In much of the pork industry, pregnant pigs are kept in cages known as “gestation crates” for their entire 16-week gestation period. A gestation crate is a metal cage, usually with a bare, slatted floor so narrow that the sow cannot turn around and can only stand up and lie down with difficulty. A bare gestation crate prevents virtually all natural behavior and interaction with other pigs. Scientific research shows that gestation crates cause physical and psychological suffering to sows, including lameness due to weaker bones and muscles, abrasion injuries, cardiovascular problems, digestive problems, and urinary tract problems. Gestation crates also increase abnormal behavior such as sham chewing and bar-biting, indicating severe frustration and stress, and sows in crates can exhibit behavior likened to clinical depression.
Gestation crates have been banned in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island. Due to consumer pressure, a number of food companies are phasing them out voluntarily. Companies such as Hormel Foods, Clemens Food Group, Perdue and Tyson Foods have all publicly stated they can meet the demand for crate-free pork (produced in accordance with Prop 12 standards), while Seaboard Foods has said it’s increasing its capacity to do so. Many pork producers have publicly touted that they’ve moved away from gestation crates and are eager to supply the California market. These decisions make good business sense. For decades, one consumer poll after another has made clear that American shoppers want better treatment of animals in the food supply.
In fact, many pork producers have already transitioned to crate-free. In an amicus brief on the case, the highly respected agricultural economists at University of California Davis strongly oppose the NPPC argument of the nationwide shortage based on their own Pork Checkoff-funded study of the issue. The economic impacts would be minuscule and limited to California. “Not only are Petitioners’ arguments flawed as a reflection of basic economic incentives, but they are factually implausible,” the economists argued.
The USDA funded an Iowa State University study that determined eliminating gestation crates (as Prop 12 does) reduces costs. From the study:
And when the increase in the number of live pigs produced per sow in the hoop barns was taken into account, the group housing of gestation sows resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system.
What is the implication of the case?
By challenging Prop 12, the NPPC is asking SCOTUS to value the rights of giant corporations over the rights of states and communities to pass laws responsive to the health, safety, and moral concerns of their residents. Beyond animal welfare, the case could radically limit states’ authority to address hundreds of state health, safety, and welfare laws.
We expect a favorable decision in the spring of 2023. Studies have shown that voters across the political spectrum agree that farm animals shouldn’t suffer in cramped cages that immobilize them for most of their lives.