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Businesses Sue Over California Animal Welfare Law

A 2018 animal welfare law enacted in California through a ballot initiative took effect in January, triggering lawsuits from livestock and meat processing industry groups, as well as restaurants and retailers.

The new law tightens regulations on the living condition requirements for livestock including poultry, beef, and pork. The law is expected to be especially disruptive to the pork industry and has already resulted in multiple lawsuits, although none have yet been successful.

Pork Producers Object

A lawsuit brought by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) was rejected by a federal judge in August over a jurisdictional issue.

The IPPA is weighing options for further action.

In a separate ongoing lawsuit, Indiana’s attorney general, 19 other states, the National Pork Producers Council, and American Farm Bureau Federation, have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the law on the basis that rules producers are required to follow to comply with the law had still not been finalized in December despite the fact the law was to take effect January 1.

This request follows a ruling against the plaintiffs in July by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the agency charged with putting the Proposition 12 regulations into effect, stated in December it was still working to finalize rules and was unlikely to have final rules in place by the time the law takes effect on January 1. The CDFA said state law does not allow for delays in imposing ballot initiatives.

The CDFA reported it was still accepting public comments on the rules as of mid-December, making completion of the process by the time the law went into effect impossible.

Principles at Issue

California is the largest pork consuming state, accounting for 14 percent of all pork sales.

The state produces only 2 percent of the pork it consumes within its own borders, thus imposing the burden of the new rules almost exclusively on out-of-state producers.

The plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit challenging the initiative include the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the California Grocers Association, the California Restaurant Association, the California Retailers Association, and Monrovia-based pork processor Kruse & Son. They argue the provisions to avoid liability under the new law are not yet in place, making compliance impossible.

“This puts all the uncertainty and risks of an unfinished regulatory regime on pork distributors and end users,” the legal brief states.

California is reaching well beyond its own borders, effectively trying to set nationwide standards for the livestock industry, said Michael Formica, the general counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, in a statement.

“All this is coming from out of the state, and they’re imposing criminal penalties, and really trying to reshape the entire market for hogs in the country,” said Formica.

Constitutional Questions

The law is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, says William F. Shughart II, research director with the Independent Institute.

“The Commerce Clause prohibits the states from regulating interstate commerce, delegating authority to do so exclusively to the US Congress,” said Shughart. “We live in a world, however, in which California is such a huge market for many goods and services that manufacturers beyond the state’s borders are forced into compliance with California-specific rules so they can do business there.

“Fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, which are more stringent in California than elsewhere, and looming bans on sales of internal combustion engines in California are two cases in point,” Shughart said. “California, not Congress, is becoming the regulator of interstate commerce, which never was the Founding Fathers’ intent.”

Increased Cost to Consumers

California could face a pork shortages sparking higher prices, if many suppliers outside of the state refuse to comply California’s still incomplete standards.

Seaboard Foods, the second largest producer of pigs in the United States, and the fourth largest pork processor, has already announced its intention to limit sales to California in response to the law.

The state’s meddling with meat producers is similar to its heavy-handed regulation of the energy sector, says engineer Ronald Stein, a policy advisor with The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Environment & Climate News.

“With Prop 12, the state is now targeting the food chain for several agricultural products demanded by Californians, continuing to tinker with food like they have with the energy sector, with likely similar results, not changing demand, but only inflicting inflated prices on consumers due to the restricted supply,” said Stein. “With California already having the highest cost of electricity and gasoline in the country, the state continues to do everything possible to further increase the cost of living for its 40 million residents.

“The wealthy and middle class have more tolerance for increased costs, but poverty kills and making food more expensive harms the less fortunate and worsens poverty,” Stein said.

The law will increase costs throughout the supply chain, says Shughart.

“Meeting more stringent animal-welfare standards may be good for pigs and other livestock, but it will definitely be bad for consumers,” said Shughart. “Some of the costs of complying with the new standards will be shifted forward in higher wholesale and retail prices; others will borne by the owners of animal farms and ranches or shifted backward to the shoulders of workers, and to the suppliers of other inputs used in the process of raising livestock for food.”

Kevin Stone (kevin.s.stone@gmail.com) writes from Arlington, Texas

Kevin Stone
Kevin Stone writes from Dallas, Texas.

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