Despite opposition from the industry, the US Supreme Court has upheld a California law banning the sale of pork from pigs kept in confined spaces.
Challenges from the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation claimed that the welfare measure unjustly regulates out-of state farmers and it violates a US Constitution provision called the Commerce Clause, which the court has interpreted as giving power to the federal government to regulate interstate commerce, not individual states.
The justices voted 5-4 to uphold a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by the industry associations, Reuters reports. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the court’s main response, said: “While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”
The measure, approved by voters as a 2018 ballot initiative called Proposition 12, bars sales in California of pork, veal and eggs from animals whose confinement failed to meet certain minimum space requirements. The law specifies that pig confinement spaces must be large enough to allow the animals to turn around, lie down, stand up and extend their limbs.
The pork industry groups argued that the law violated the Constitution by forcing farmers in other states to change their practices in order to sell pork in California, a lucrative market.
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, praised the ruling: “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 common sense step to prevent products of relentless, unbearable animal suffering from being sold in California.”
But Scott Hays, president of the National Pork Producers Council and a Missouri pork producer, said: “We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion. Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation. We are still evaluating the Court’s full opinion to understand all the implications. NPPC will continue to fight for our nation’s pork farmers and American families against misguided regulations.”
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a partial dissent that was joined by fellow conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh, as well as liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. The four said they would have allowed the challengers to the California law to pursue their claim in the lower courts.
“In my view, petitioners plausibly allege a substantial burden against interstate commerce,” Roberts wrote.
President Joe Biden’s administration sided with the pork producers in the case, saying that states cannot ban products that pose no threat to public health or safety due to philosophical objections.
Proposition 12 set the required space for breeding pigs, or sows, at 24 square feet (2.2 square meters). The current industry standard is between 14 and 20 square feet (1.3 to 1.9 square meters), according to a 2021 report from Rabobank.