A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last week to uphold a California law banning the sale of pork from farms that confine pregnant pigs in gestation crates could have a widespread impact on the way states regulate the production of meat and eggs, according to legal experts.
In a brief this week distributed by legal intelligence website JD Supra, law firm Hogan Lovells said the ruling on Proposition 12 may embolden other states to enact their own state-specific requirements. It urged food companies to assess how it will impact their operations.
Kathy Hessler, the assistant dean for animal law at George Washington University Law School, told Food Dive the verdict provided a legal win for animal welfare advocates across the country who are eager to pursue statewide bans on livestock being grown in small enclosures.
Hessler said now that the court accepted animal welfare as a “legitimate state interest,” other states follow suit with their own laws. “We’re only talking about minimal protections, of course, but it’s the beginning and not the end of a conversation,” Hessler said.
Currently, at least nine states have proposed measures that ban or restrict gestation crates for pigs.
A Massachusetts law similar to the Prop 12 case, which restricts sales of some animal products not raised in accordance with its confinement laws, currently awaits trial in a U.S. District Court.
Supporters of animal welfare laws say farmers could stand to benefit from these rulings. Michael Mongan, California’s solicitor general, argued before the Supreme Court last October that pork producers have the potential to charge a premium in his state under the new guidelines.
“You have people on the conservative side of the political spectrum, not necessarily these justices, who would ordinarily like states’ rights but not support animal welfare, and so that puts them at odds,” Hessler said.
The pork industry is bracing for additional regulations from states such as Massachusetts, which the National Pork Producers Council called an “overreach” that will devastate family farmers.
Last year, the NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation jointly filed a brief with the Supreme Court challenging Prop 12’s constitutionality. It said it would impose regulations on commerce outside of its state of origin. The NPPC did not respond to Food Dive’s request for additional comment.
Jonathan Urick, an associate chief counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and one of the lead attorneys in the California case, called the ruling disappointing. He agreed with Justice Kavanaugh’s assertion that higher pork costs resulting from the California regulation will be passed onto consumers nationwide.
“Even more concerning, the Court’s decision invites other states to mimic California’s destructive ‘we know best’ regulatory strategy on other issues far beyond the pork industry,” Urick said.