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Supreme Court agrees to hear challenge to law regulating how pigs are raised

California law makes it illegal to sell pork in the state unless the pig it comes from was raised under certain humane conditions. Pork producers say the law is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court on Monday put pork on its legal menu, taking up a challenge to a California law that regulates how pigs are raised. Pork producers said it sets unrealistic requirements and amounts to regulating the industry nationwide.

The law at issue is Proposition 12, approved by voters in 2018, which makes it illegal to sell pork in California unless the pig it comes from was born to a sow housed with at least 24 square feet of space and in conditions that allow the sow to turn around freely without touching her enclosure. 

The pork producers challenging the law said hardly any commercially bred sows in the United States are housed with that much space. Given that California imports nearly all of the pork consumed in the state, they said, Proposition 12 in practical effect regulates wholly out-of-state commerce and is therefore unconstitutional. It would require, they say, a more onerous set of hog-raising practices just for pork sold in California — an unfeasible prospect.

“It requires massive and costly alteration to existing sow housing nationwide, necessitates either reduction of herd sizes or building of new facilities to meet its space mandates, raises prices in transactions with no California connection, drives farms out of business, and promotes industry consolidation, and will be policed by intrusive inspections of out-of-state farms conducted by California’s agents,” the challengers said in their appeal. 

Farmers in Iowa and Minnesota, the nation’s largest pork producers, said the effects of the law “will be catastrophic and threaten our nation’s supply of safe and wholesome pork.” 

The Humane Society, defending the law, said it was intended to end “cruel and unsanitary conditions that threaten the health of California consumers.”

Lawyers for the state said Proposition 12 regulates only in-state sales of products brought in from elsewhere and “is entirely indifferent to the ways products sold in other states are priced or produced."

What’s more, the state said, several pork producers, including Tyson Foods and Hormel, have publicly declared that they have taken steps to ensure that their products meet the California standard.