The North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) on October 4 filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 12, also known as the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative. The Meat Institute opposes the law, believing it will hurt the nation’s food value chain by significantly increasing costs for producers and consumers.

Proposition 12 -- which establishes that all eggs produced in or sold in the state come from cage-free laying systems by the end of 2021, and also calls for similar standards for pork and veal production -- was approved by 61% of California voters in 2018.

“Prop 12 hurts the family on a budget with higher prices for pork, veal and eggs, and unfairly punishes livestock producers outside of California by forcing them to spend millions more just to access California markets,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “We are a highly-efficient and unified economy in this country and so that’s just not right. If this unconstitutional law is allowed to stand, California will dictate farming practices across the nation. California’s overreach creates an unworkable patchwork of differing state regulations that will make it impossible for the supply chain, from small farmers to your local grocer, to function.”

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, asks the court to halt implementation of the law (grant a preliminary injunction) because Prop 12 violates the commerce clause and the federal structure of the United States Constitution. The Constitution prohibits states from discriminating against interstate and foreign commerce, regulating commerce outside of their borders or imposing undue burdens on interstate and foreign commerce. Prop 12 violates each of these limitations.

Enacted in November 2018, Proposition 12 imposes space requirements regarding laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves within California. Proposition 12, according to the Meat Institute creates a barrier to trade by imposing obligations on out-of-state competitors in an effort to assist local producers of eggs, pork and veal. Proposition 12 reaches beyond the state’s borders by prohibiting the sale in California of eggs, uncooked pork or veal from animals housed in ways that do not meet California’s requirements. As a result, Proposition 12 sets confinement standards for how pigs and veal calves are raised anywhere in the United States or in any foreign country.

Proposition 12, the institute said, also imposes substantial burdens on the interstate markets for pork and veal that are not justified by legitimate local interests. For example, not only does Proposition 12 prohibit the sale of uncooked cuts of pork from the breeding pigs, it prohibits the sale of meat from the offspring of those breeding pigs, even though the offspring are not subject to Proposition 12’s space requirements. This sales ban means Proposition 12 effectively regulates how sows and veal calves are housed everywhere in the United States if the meat from those animals or their offspring could be sold in California. 

According to the Meat Institute, Proposition 12 exposes companies to potential criminal penalties and the threat of civil lawsuits filed by competitors and others. The Meat Institute’s lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the law’s enforcement. 

According to the State of California’s own economic analysis, consumer prices are likely to increase because producers will have to spend to expand or construct new animal housing which may cost more to operate in the long term.  The state acknowledges it may take several years for farmers to comply resulting in a shortfall of products and increased prices for consumers.

In June, the Meat Institute submitted public comments regarding California’s Proposition 12 calling for postponement of the law’s implementation so multiple problems affecting consumers and producers may be addressed.