The Supreme Court will decide whether California can dictate how farmers in other states raise their pigs, for pork sold in California. Yesterday, the Supreme Court granted review in pork producers’ challenge to California’s law, which a federal appeals court had upheld.
California voters in 2018 approved Proposition 12, a ballot initiative that banned the sale of pork and chicken if the livestock was not raised in pens large enough for the animals to move around freely. California residents eat lots of pork (13 percent of what is consumed in the United States), but the state produces only .3 percent of the national supply. And so Proposition 12 had the impact of forcing regulations (and significant costs) on farms outside California. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) filed suit against the state, arguing that Proposition 12 violated the dormant commerce clause, the constitutional doctrine that forbids states from imposing regulations that interfere with interstate commerce.
A Supreme Court precedent from 1970, Pike v. Bruce Church Inc., concluded that overly burdensome regulations that control the circumstances by which food producers can ship goods to other states can run afoul of the commerce clause when they force significant costs on those producers with little actual benefit. The NPPC is leaning on that decision (and some others) to argue that Prop. 12 is unconstitutional.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta is defending the proposition…noting that the law is not discriminatory (it treats pork producers within the state the same as those out of the state) and citing several top pork producers, such as Hormel and Tyson, that say they will be able to continue to meet the needs of California consumers….But pork costs for consumers have skyrocketed nationally, and that’s not entirely due to the current jump in inflation. Consumer prices in 2021 jumped about 7 percent over 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Around that same time, retail bacon prices jumped 23.7 percent. The differences in bacon prices between California and Florida are significant. According to Instacart, a pound of Oscar Mayer bacon costs $11.49 at Los Angeles grocery stores. A Wal-Mart in Orlando, Florida, is charging $6.98 for the exact same slab from Oscar Mayer….The libertarian Cato Institute has filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the pork industry, noting that California is putting producers on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct compliant housing for pigs but has not provided any evidence that larger cages will actually advance animal welfare or reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.