California’s law banning sales of meat and eggs that don’t conform to cage-free farm animal rules was recently upheld by a 9th Circuit court. The court ruled in favor of a judge’s decision last November that rejected an attempt from the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) to stop the law from going into effect.
California’s Proposition 12 has faced a wall of litigation since the second it was passed in 2018. Set to go into effect on January 1, 2022, it establishes that meat, poultry, and eggs not produced under California’s strict animal husbandry standards cannot be sold in California. Those standards, already enacted for pork and hens, are some of the toughest in the country. Proposition 12 builds on Proposition 2 — approved by voters in 2008 — which mandates cages for egg-laying hens must be large enough for the birds to stand up, lie down, and extend their wings. Producers of veal calves are required to house animals with at least 43 square feet of usable floor space per calf.
Starting January 1, 2022, sows will need a minimum of 24 square feet of usable space per animal and laying hens will be cage-free. During breeding, the proposition only allows confinement of a sow for 6 hours within a 24-hour period and no more than 24 hours in any 30-day period. Products that don’t meet these standards can not be legally sold in California as of 2022. That includes products sold at national grocery and fast food/restaurant chains operating in the state.
In effect, the law dictates how livestock producers across the United States are allowed to run their farms, according to proponents like the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). The two groups jointly filed a suit last year that asked the court to strike California’s Proposition 12 as invalid based on interstate commerce laws. They charge California is violating the U.S. Constitution by attempting to regulate businesses outside of its borders. The suit was rejected in December but the two groups filed an appeal. A decision is still pending. The North American Meat Institute, which represents large meat suppliers like Tyson Foods and Butterball, argued similarly in its rejected suit that the ban created a “trade barrier” that extends beyond the state’s borders, violating the commerce clause.
California has an outsized impact on the pork industry. The state doesn’t produce any significant quantities of pork but it is responsible for 13% to 15% of national consumption. According to NPPC, less than 1% of U.S. pork production meets Proposition 12 standards, meaning almost the entire industry will be essentially “illegal” in California.
As Travis Cushman, AFBF senior council for public policy explains, “We share the goal of ensuring animals are well cared for, but this law fails to advance that goal and will also have other serious consequences,” he said. One of those will be costly upgrades to construct and develop new operating procedures. According to a University of Minnesota study, the conversion of sow barns to group pens alone would cost between $1.87 billion and $3.24 billion.
Michael Formica, assistant vice president and general counsel for National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), warns that if NPPC and AFBF’s legal challenge is not successful and Proposition 12 moves ahead, many U.S. hog producers will be run out of business, likely leading to even more industry consolidation.
The industry is facing stricter regulations from more than just California, too. Multiple states are actually on a similar path. According to Civil Eats, 10 states currently have voter-approved statutes that ban gestation crates on commercial farms, including Florida, Ohio, and Arizona. In 2016, Massachusetts passed a law, An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals, that also goes into effect on January 1, 2022. It too stipulates minimum space requirements for hens, veal calves, and pigs, and also prohibits the sale of any eggs, veal, and pork from “illegally confined animals,” regardless of where they are produced.
Interestingly, the World Animal Protection (WAP) group released a report earlier in October that found that companies ranging from quick-service restaurants to hotel conglomerates are struggling to meet their commitments to phase out supplies of pork from animals raised in gestation stalls. Deadlines set by well-known brands, such as Marriott, Burger King and Einstein Noah Bagels, have already passed. For others like Wendy’s, Target, Quiznos and Dine Brands (Applebee’s and IHOP) have self-imposed deadlines that are fast approaching as well. Of the 56 companies included in the report, WAP said nearly one-third (30%) no longer maintain language in their published animal welfare policies or responsibility reports affirming their commitment to gestation-stall-free pork. An additional 25% have vague language that does not require all of their suppliers to comply, the organization added. (Sources: Meat & Poultry, Civil Eats, AGProfessional, Feedstuffs)