The Van Trump Report

Supreme Court Deals Blow to Pork Industry by Upholding California Confinement Law

Californians will soon face a severe pork shortage even as producers in the rest of the country will probably be sitting on surplus supplies. At least that’s the anticipated result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to let California’s “Proposition 12” stand. The law, passed in 2018, bans the sale of pork in the state that is not raised in accordance with California’s production standards.

The rules require pregnant pigs be given at least 24 square feet of space and the ability to stand up and turn around in their pens.  The current industry standard is between 14 and 20 square feet. The pork rules are part of wider regulations that also set standards for veal calves and egg-laying chickens.

According to the industry, the law gives the state unwarranted influence over the pork sector. Pork industry groups that sued the state argued the law violates the US Constitution’s Interstate Commerce law by forcing farmers in other states to change their practices in order to sell pork in California.

In comments made on the initially proposed regulations, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said that the rules would require unworkable annual certification of hog farmers’ compliance in addition to creating a complex accreditation process for entities allowed to conduct such certifications. Additionally, NPPC alleged that Prop 12 imposes burdensome and unnecessary recordkeeping requirements on farmers, meat packers, and others throughout the pork supply chain while imposing unnecessary and problematic labeling requirements for pork.  

The legal challenge brought by NPPC and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) was supported by the Biden Administration which argued in written filings that Proposition 12 would a “wholesale change in how pork is raised and marketed in this country” and that it has “thrown a giant wrench” into the nation’s pork market.

California is the largest domestic market for pork, accounting for about 13% of US consumption. However, the majority of supplies, 99,87%, comes from other states. In 2021, Rabobank estimated that only about 4% of all pork produced in the US met California’s new standards.

Pork producers estimate that complying with Proposition 12 could cost the industry as much as $350 million. They also say that the way the pork market works, with cuts of meat from various producers being combined before sale, it is likely all pork would have to meet California standards, regardless of where it is sold.

Rabobank estimates that providing larger confinement spaces would require 20% to 25% more barn space, which could cost $1,600 to $2,500 per sow, or $3 million to $4.5 million total. The bank also says many producers will be reluctant to make the costly upgrades, estimating that only about 40% to 50% of California’s demand will be filled, likely leading to much higher pork prices in the state. Rabobank also forecast a short-term surplus of 150 million pounds per month of pork that fails to comply with California law.

Those market fluctuations may only be temporary if more producers comply with Proposition 12. However, if and when that happens, it will likely mean higher pork prices for all US consumers as producers pass along the added costs of converting sow housing. The measure was originally supposed to go into effect on January 1, 2022 but was delayed until July of this because of legal challenges.

NPPC said it was “very disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision and is “still evaluating the Court’s full opinion to understand all the implications.” Some legal scholars point out that there is hope an appeal could again be crafted. The vote was very a narrow 5 to 4 and the justices had competing opinions as to why. Four justices said the challengers failed to make the case that the law imposed a substantial burden on interstate commerce. In a partial dissent, four of the justices said the “sweeping extraterritorial effects” of the law warranted sending the case back to the appeals court to consider whether the burdens it imposed outweighed its benefits. (Sources: The New York Times, DTN, AFBF)

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