California’s tough new law preventing cruelty to farm animals sparks protests from major US meat producers

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Some have called it “Bacongate”. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa calls it the “war on breakfast.”

California’s Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, also known as Proposition 12, sets the nation’s strictest minimum containment standards to ensure the humane treatment of farm animals.

After the law’s latest requirements went into effect Jan. 1, a Sacramento Superior Court judge delayed enforcement of a provision, which requires pregnant sows to be confined in a space of at least 24 square feet. This requirement will no longer be enforced for 180 days following the publication of the final regulations by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, meanwhile, are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional, on the grounds that it violates the Commerce Clause by subjecting farms out of the State, where most California pork comes from. , California regulations.

A similar petition filed by the North American Meat Institute was denied last summer.

California voters approved Proposition 2 in 2008, banning several forms of animal confinement on California farms. Proposition 12, passed in 2018 with nearly two-thirds of the vote, amended and expanded the previous law, banning the sale of raw meat products in California, regardless of their state of origin, from animals” poorly confined”.

The first provisions of Proposition 12 came into force in 2020, setting minimum space requirements for laying hens and calves reared for veal. This year’s deadline set the now-delayed minimum space standards for breeding pigs and also banned gestation crates, which are too small for pregnant pigs to move around. The new standards go even further for hens, requiring that all eggs sold in the state come from cage-free birds.

The law has sparked a wave of legal challenges and fierce debate between animal rights activists, who see it as a major victory over the cruel treatment of farm animals, and trade groups, who say Proposition 12 imposes a burden to consumers, out of -state producers and small farms.

“Ordinary Americans already know that’s wrong,” Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal welfare at the Humane Society, said of the now-banned practices. “These laws are the most sensible laws you can imagine.”

Balk was particularly concerned with the use of gestation cages, enclosures so small that pregnant pigs are unable to stand up or turn around in them.

“It’s basically her being forced to live in her own coffin,” Balk said, referring to female pigs.

In addition to animal rights, supporters of the law argue that its provisions improve food safety. A 2020 United Nations report found that factory farming and intensive confinement of livestock have increased the risk of outbreaks of animal-borne diseases. From a farmer’s perspective, research has also shown that not using gestation crates is ‘more economical’, resulting in healthier and more valuable piglets.

Most egg farmers, faced with the new cage-free requirements earlier this year, quietly complied.

“Our members intend to comply with all new state laws governing hen housing as they are implemented,” said a representative from United Egg Producers, the largest association in country’s egg producers, in a written statement.

Critics of the meat industry law, meanwhile, point to the California Department of Agriculture’s own assessment that the proposed regulations could raise prices for California consumers.

The department also found that the costs of providing free and reduced-price school meals are expected to increase by nearly $2 million next year, while meal costs for state prisons could increase by more than $4 million. million dollars per year. The CDFA also recognized that California-based farms may find it difficult to compete when selling products outside of California against out-of-state producers who are not held to the same standards.

Jen Sorenson, president of the National Pork Producers Council, wrote that the law was “flawed from the start” and undermined the food security of the entire nation.

Trade groups have also questioned the constitutionality of California laws that apply to out-of-state producers.

“For every pig raised in California, 235 are raised in Iowa,” Senator Grassley wrote in an op-ed last month in The Des Moines Register. “I’m baffled that the Golden State has a say in how Iowa pork producers raise pigs.”

The North American Meat Institute and the American Farm Bureau Federation, together with the National Pork Producers Council, have filed lawsuits against Proposition 12 with support from several states, mostly in the Midwest. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed both lawsuits, prompting the plaintiffs to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Jan. 25 Superior Court decision in Sacramento delaying enforcement of the sow confinement provision was in response to a separate lawsuit, brought by restaurant and grocery business groups frustrated by the lack of official guidelines for the implementation of Proposition 12.

While the ballot initiative required the CDFA to issue regulations for implementing the law by the end of 2019, the agency has yet to finalize rules on how the law will be enforced and how products conforming to Proposition 12 will be certified and labelled. The agency briefly reopened its public comment window in December, so final regulations could be months away.

Plaintiffs in the case wrote that the regulatory delay “places pork suppliers in an untenable position” and that small businesses and consumers will “pay the price for this uncertainty.”

Much of the debate, however, revolves around disagreements over how the new requirements will affect small farms.

“Small farms across the country will be forced to make costly and unnecessary changes to their operations, which will lead to greater consolidation and higher food prices,” said Zippy Duvall, president of American Farm. Bureau Federation, in a written press release.

The CDFA, however, argues that small, non-industrial farms are more likely to already comply with the law.

Chris Oliviero, general manager of Niman Ranch, a Colorado-based specialty meat company, said he also finds the small-farm-focused arguments dishonest. He said that in many agricultural states, the number of independent pig farmers has declined in recent years, even as the number of pigs has increased.

“This narrative that the conventional system that exists is fine for the majority of farmers is a false argument,” he said.

In fact, opening space in the California market to growers willing to comply with Proposition 12 could create new opportunities for independent farmers, Oliviero said.

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Niman Ranch, which represents 750 family meat farms nationwide, was the first brand to support Proposition 12 in court, filing a brief to counter a lawsuit brought by Iowa pork producers.

“For Niman, supporting Prop 12 was really easy,” Oliviero said. “We don’t think it’s humane to keep a sow in a seven-by-two-foot crate.”

According to Oliviero, Niman’s vocal support for Proposition 12 is also meant to counter the narrative pushed by trade groups that their opposition reflects the sentiments of all pork producers. On the contrary, he says, it draws attention to problematic practices in the pork industry. For Niman, being “in front” with Proposition 12 is simply good business.

“I understand the concern,” Oliviero said, about the challenges faced by pig farmers who have to make significant changes to their operations due to Proposition 12. “But the industry has proven time and time again that, when they put their mind to it, they are more than capable of making big changes.

Leah Campbell is a Boston-based staff editor at Inside Climate News, specializing in disasters, agriculture and environmental change. She is a student in the graduate program in scientific writing at MIT and has an academic background in environmental planning and earth science.

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