By Gordon Hopkins
Nebraska Governor Jim Pllen is one of 11 governors who signed a letter urging congressional leaders to support the reintroduction of the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression Act. This letter is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold California’s Proposition 12, which sets minimum space requirements for the confinement of livestock and bans the sale of meat and eggs of animals reared in conditions that do not meet those requirements, even if the animals were raised and slaughtered outside of California.
The letter states, in part, “Despite California’s reliance on its fellow states for food, Proposition 12 threatens to disrupt the very system Californians depend on for their pork supply. Its strict, activist-drafted requirements for pig farming sharply depart from the practices which are lawful in our states.”
The letter argues that, “California’s law impermissibly burdens interstate commerce in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”
Governor Pillen said, “Congress needs to act to protect our nation’s agricultural interests from states that are working to put onerous and unfounded regulations on livestock producers that will ultimately increase food costs and hurt farming operations.”
“California’s onerous requirements will pass the buck to American consumers – worsening the inflationary crisis gripping our economy,” said Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who also signed the letter. “Iowa’s pork producers use science-based techniques to help feed America and the world, and California’s activist-drafted requirements will have a dramatic negative impact on those facing food insecurity. It’s time for Congress to use their power and allow pork producers around the country to do what they do best.”
What is Proposition 12?
Over 60 percent of California voters passed Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, on November 6, 2018. It was placed on the ballot as an initiated state statute.
Prop 12 defines the minimum amount of space that farmers must give to cows, pigs and chickens who are held in confinement. The law applies to food products made from these animals and those sold in California. The law bans the sale of veal from calves, pork from breeding pigs, and eggs from hens when the animals are confined to areas below minimum square-feet requirements.
Effective in 2020, Prop 12 was set to ban the confinement of calves in areas with less than 43 square feet of usable floor space per calf and egg-laying hens (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and guinea fowl) in areas with less than one square foot of usable floor space per hen.
Effective in 2022, the law would ban the confinement of breeding pigs and their immediate offspring in areas with less than 24 square feet of usable floor space per pig and egg-laying hens in areas other than indoor or outdoor cage-free housing systems based on the United Egg Producers’ 2017 cage-free guidelines, which define cage-free housing as areas that provide 1.0 to 1.5 square feet of usable floor space per hen and allow hens to move around inside the area.
Supreme Court Decision
While Prop 12 was approved four years ago, it has not yet gone fully into effect due to various legal challenges, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On May 11 of this year, the Supreme Court upheld Prop 12 in a five-to-four ruling, finding that states have a right to decide to regulate products sold within the state. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said, “Companies that choose to sell products in various states must normally comply with the laws of those various states. While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”
On May 31, the California Department of Food and Agriculture Animal Care Program released guidance.
The primary sponsor of the proposition was The Humane Society of the United States, which issued a statement after the Supreme Court’s ruling, “We’re delighted that the Supreme Court has upheld California Proposition 12—the nation’s strongest farm animal welfare law—and made clear that preventing animal cruelty and protecting public health are core functions of our state governments. We are grateful to our many outstanding allies who helped make Proposition 12 a success. We won’t stop fighting until the pork industry ends its cruel, reckless practice of confining mother pigs in cages so small they can’t even turn around. It’s astonishing that pork industry leaders would waste so much time and money on fighting this commonsense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California.”
Other supporters of Prop 12 include various animal welfare groups such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Animal Outlook.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) are among the opponents of Prop 12.
According to NPPC, approximately 15 percent of domestic U.S. pork sales are to California.
NPPC also claims that the cost that farmers will need invest to comply with the law is $3,500 per sow, “That means a producer owner operating a 4,000 sow farm will need to invest approximately $14 million to be compliant.”
Illinois Pork Producers Association President Thomas Titus wrote in a op-ed last year, “Pig farmers cannot believe these attacks. They have dedicated their lives to providing the nation with a healthy source of protein and other nutrients at a price ordinary families can afford — and doing it ever more humanely. The public benefits have been enormous, and the treatment of pigs is now by far the best in the world.”
Also opposed are the Association of California Egg Farmers and National Pork Producers Council, which argues that the required changes would increase food prices and create meat and egg shortages.
The governors that signed the letter have proposed reintroducing the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act. Previously introduced in 2021, the EATS Act would restrict state and local governments from imposing certain standards or conditions on the production or manufacture of agricultural products sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce. Specifically, it prohibits the imposition of such standards or conditions if the production or manufacture occurs in another state and the standard or condition adds to requirements applicable under federal law and the laws of the state or locality where the product is produced or manufactured.
The EATS Act was read twice and referred to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry but did not advance.