Lawsuit Challenges California Pork Production Requirements

Despite having just over 200,000 hogs in their state, California law is set to impact how the nation’s remaining 235 million are raised.

In November 2018, Proposition 12 passed with 63 percent of Californians supporting a ban on pork, eggs, and other products produced from animals who aren’t given enough space to live. For pork, that’s 24 square feet per pig.

Last month, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council filed a lawsuit against California, challenging the new law. The lawsuit includes statements from 13 pork producers who say they and their animals would be adversely affected when provisions of the law take effect in two years.

Todd Hays, a pork producer from Northeast Missouri, is among those producers. He says the measure will make it difficult for nearly every producer in the nation to comply before it takes effect…

“For the pork sector, the biggest issue is the amount of room for a sow, a female animal is going to have pigs, you know, how much room they have, the size of the room they’re either in, and amount of time they’re in certain smaller areas. That would really restrict so many of us in what we’re doing. We would either have to increase our facilities, build bigger buildings to house the animals, or we had to cut back by about 30 to 40 percent of our production to give them more room, and that’s not necessarily going to help a whole lot.”

In the declaration Hays submitted for the lawsuit, he warns that complying with the proposition’s requirement to use group pen spaces instead of individual stalls would increase sow mortality and lameness rates, as well as labor costs, all while losing productivity…

“If I want to meet their standard, I would already have to be in the process of making changes on my farm by April or May of this coming year. I mean that far out, it’s just ridiculous. And, for me and many other producers we’re like this does not help the animal, what they’re wanting us to do. In fact, in my opinion, and that’s what I say in my script, this probably could be worse for the animal. From my past experience raising animals, being around pigs as a young kid, out in open pinning areas, inside larger facilities in large pen areas, this is not the best way. Not only for the pigs, but also, the folks that work with the pigs, myself and my family members and others. It’s going to be a safety issue too.”

Proposition 12 comes a decade after California voters passed a similar measure regulating banning eggs from caged birds. Hays said that following Missouri’s unsuccessful challenge to California’s egg law, Farm Bureau took a different approach…

“In that case, a lot of the state attorneys filed suit against them, and we thought this is great, they’re stepping up, their supporting ag, they’re going to fight this for us. But, the courts ruled that that’s not hurting a state. That proposition did not hurt the state of Missouri. State of Missouri filed suit against them. It may have hurt producers, but the producers weren’t the ones that filed suit.”

Hays suggested that California voters were swayed by emotion rather than sound science when they voted for it, and that it was time for producers to draw a line against laws being written without input or representation from the farmers that are impacted…

“We could spend a lot of money and increase our footprint of building size out there just to stay status quo, the number of pigs we can produce, but then what’s the next thing they’re going to ask us to do, and the next thing after that. So, at some point we’re saying enough is enough, you don’t have any sound science, you’re going off emotions. We understand what it is raising pigs, and we’re always looking to improve how we can do it, but let us make that decision, don’t mandate something from a state proposition that you’re playing on emotions and the people understand the issue at all.”

He adds that farmers outside California had no say in how the law was crafted. Hays says while compliance would be difficult, so would telling their processors to not send their product to California. Farmers from seven states have declarations included in the lawsuit. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of California.