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Farmers concerned about effects of California’s new animal welfare law

(The Center Square) – A new animal welfare law going into effect in California Jan. 1 that mandates space requirements for pigs, cows and chickens has some livestock farmers on edge.  

Proposition 12 prohibits sales in California of pork, veal and eggs from livestock whose confinement doesn’t meet certain minimum space rules. Those rules mandate hog pens to be large enough for an animal to turn around.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, ruling 5-4 that “while the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”

“The Supreme Court decision in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, affirming the constitutionality of Proposition 12, a law setting standards for the sale of certain animal products in California, was the greatest legal victory in animal protection history,” said Bernard Unti, senior principal strategist with the Humane Society of the United States.

The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation contend the requirements violate the constitution’s Commerce Clause because California represents less than one-sixth of domestic demand and sources most of its pork from other states.

In the face of Prop 12, producers are finding themselves at a difficult crossroads. They can either comply with a law they say could risk the health and safety of their livestock, or they’ll lose out on market access in California.

Tasha Bunting, Illinois Farm Bureau director of Commodity Programs and Food Systems, said the law would be a big burden on farmers in Illinois and other large pork-producing states such as Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and North Carolina.  

“This is an added cost that will limit the number of sows that they are able to house,” Bunting told The Center Square. “Also, if they are trying to redesign barns, those added costs would definitely be challenging for our producers right now.”  

The Illinois Pork Producers Association estimates it will cost $3,500 per sow to upgrade infrastructure to become Prop 12 compliant, a cost they warn would be passed onto the consumer. 

Other opponents argue that group housing would result in worse health outcomes for sows because there would be more fighting and biting between the animals. 

In addition to Prop 12 in California, 14 states have passed similar legislation addressing farm animal containment. 

Some are calling on the U.S. Congress to enact national legislation on farm animal welfare issues within the next five years to pre-empt differing state laws, and set national standards for the well-being of many agricultural animals, including dairy cows, cattle and chickens.

“One area dictating how farmers produce the products that they raise in another part of the country and that can cause a lot of concern over a patchwork of different regulations that our farmers have to adhere to,” Bunting said.

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