SACRAMENTO -- The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a challenge to a California animal cruelty law that affects the pork industry, ruling that the case was properly dismissed by lower courts. Pork producers had said that the law could force industry-wide changes and raise the cost of bacon and other pork products nationwide.
California's law requires more space for breeding pigs, and producers say it would force the $26 billion-a-year industry to change its practices even though pork is produced almost entirely outside California.
The justices upheld lower court rulings dismissing the pork producers' case.
During arguments in the case in October, liberal and conservative justices underscored the potential reach of the case. Some worried whether greenlighting the animal cruelty law would give state legislators a license to pass laws targeting practices they disapprove of, such as a law that says a product cannot be sold in the state if workers who made it are not vaccinated or are not in the country legally. They also worried about the reverse: How many state laws would be called into question if California's law were not permitted?
The case before the court involved California's Proposition 12, which voters passed in 2018. It said that pork sold in the state needs to come from pigs whose mothers were raised with at least 24 square feet of space, with the ability to lie down and turn around. That rules out confined "gestation crates," metal enclosures that are common in the pork industry.
The Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation sued. They said that while Californians consume 13% of the pork eaten in the United States, nearly 100% of it comes from hogs raised outside the state, mostly in the Midwest and North Carolina. The vast majority of sows, meanwhile, are not raised under conditions that would meet Proposition 12's standards.
The Biden administration had urged the justices to side with pork producers, telling the court in written filings that Proposition 12 would be a "wholesale change in how pork is raised and marketed in this country" and that it has "thrown a giant wrench" into the nation's pork market.
Pork producers argue that 72% of farmers use individual pens for sows that do not allow them to turn around and that even farmers who house sows in larger group pens do not provide the space California would require.
They also say that the way the pork market works, with cuts of meat from various producers being combined before sale, it is likely all pork would have to meet California standards, regardless of where it is sold. Complying with Proposition 12 could cost the industry $290 million to $350 million, they said.