Press Release

Prop 12: Pig Industry Objections Are Baseless, Argue Veterinarians and Animal Welfare Advocates in Two Briefs Submitted to U.S. Supreme Court

Justices provided with compelling testimony about mistruths and exaggerations

Washington, D.C. — The pork industry today can meet California’s humane treatment standards with existing sow housing systems, according to pleadings filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by two leading agricultural veterinarians and a set of organizations led by the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action.  The challenge by the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau to Proposition 12 in California — claims already rejected by a U.S. District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit — is riddled with exaggerated claims about the extraterritorial effects of a ballot measure that deals with production and sales in state.

Proposition 12, the Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, was enacted by a 63% majority or 7.5 million California voters in 2018, building on Prop 2 a decade earlier that restricted extreme confinement of laying hens, veal calves, and breeding pigs. The most recent measure stipulates that any eggs or pork sold in the state come from animals afforded sufficient space to move around, regardless of where the animals are raised. Tyson, Hormel, Clemens Food Group, Niman Ranch and others have said they can supply the market with adjustments that they’ve already made in their sow housing systems. 

The law was scheduled to be fully implemented by Jan. 1 this year, but inaction by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and persistent efforts by the pork industry have led to delays in its implementation. The U.S. Supreme Court, which will hold oral argument on the case in October 2022, represents the last chance in the courts for the industry to nullify a law that has been upheld by every other federal court it has come before. 

The pork industry’s move to thwart the will of the voters is already have a chilling effect in one state: State authorities in Massachusetts put a hold on implementation set to go into effect today of a very similar law there, declaring that the state will wait for the Supreme Court ruling on the matter.  Massachusetts voters approved the restrictions of sale of pork coming from unsafe and inhumane housing systems with an astonishing 78% of the vote, repudiating all of the overwrought and exaggerated arguments from plaintiffs during the political campaign in that state.

“The pork industry is asking our highest court to strike down a law democratically enacted by the most populous state with the largest economy in the Union, largely for the financial benefit of a handful of giant pork conglomerates — two of the largest of which are foreign-owned,” said Center for a Humane Economy’s Senior Attorney Kate Schultz. “An honest analysis of the facts and the law shows that there are no legitimate grounds for the Court to do so. Proposition 12 should be upheld under any meaningful analysis the Court undertakes.” 

We will likely see the Court attempt to balance the significant animal welfare and public health interests of Californians in passing Proposition 12, against the claimed financial burdens on the pork industry in providing space that is 18 inches wider than that provided by gestation crates now in use for sows. While the industry is making unsupported claims of widespread commercial catastrophe, independent agricultural economists filed a brief with the Court after their own economic analysis determined the impact on the industry to be “marginal.”

The pork industry’s position is further undercut by the fact it is already supplying gestation crate-free pork to the many large retailers and restaurant chains that have responded to consumer demand for humanely raised animals. As the brief filed with the Court states:

“…[W]hen grocery chain and big box corporations demand that only gestation crate-free pork may be sold in their stores, the industry willingly and voluntarily responds by making the necessary shifts in production to maintain supply, yet when a duly-elected state legislature acting on the votes of its citizens enacts the same standards, petitioners come before this Court claiming that providing the state with compliant pork will cause the collapse of the national pork supply chain. If pork producers can supply crate-free pork to tens of thousands of McDonald’s outlets — to say nothing of the dozens of other companies across the nation with tens of thousands of their own outlets — then it can supply California’s market. Here, the industry’s argument quickly falls like a hypocritical house of cards.”

In addition to filing its own brief, the Center and Animal Wellness Action also worked closely with two agricultural veterinarians, Drs. Jim Keen and Thomas Pool, to file their own expert amici brief that lays bare the false claims of the industry and the veterinarians who work for it. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians filed papers with the Court that misleadingly assert that Proposition 12 “mandated” group housing for sows, and further argued that these group settings were injurious to herd health. In addition to correcting the record on the requirements under the law — that the industry is free to continue to use larger gestation crates as needed — Drs. Keen and Pool also crafted a compelling compendium of the many public health and animal welfare consequences of the continued use of gestation crates prevalent in our modern factory farming system. The California Department of Agriculture also filed a brief. You can read it here.

“The doomsday forecasting of extraterritorial effects for the pig industry is a contrivance and a charade,” stated Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “Key players in American pork production have said they can readily meet the demands of the California market, which accounts for less than 10% of consumption of U.S.-produced pork.  If factory farmers in Iowa and North Carolina don’t want to supply the California market, they don’t have to do it. The humane treatment standards in California have already been recognized as a market opportunity by thousands of pig farmers who actually engage in responsible animal husbandry and don’t immobilize animals in crates.



Excerpts from Brief from Jim Keen, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Thomas Pool, D.V.M., M.S.

A group of pork-industry veterinarians, acting on behalf of the AASV, has filed an amicus brief urging the Court to overturn the decisions below upholding Proposition 12. These veterinarians spend almost the opening three-quarters of their brief arguing against a straw-man version of the California law – one that “mandates group pens in circumstances when the science supports flexibility to use stalls.” P. 4

Contrary to the AASV’s assertion, nowhere does Proposition 12 “mandate group pens” or force pig farmers to place all their pigs in group housing settings. Instead, Proposition 12 simply requires that each pig must be supplied with twenty-four square feet of useable floorspace, which will provide these large animals the barest standard of humane treatment to lie down, stand up, and turn around during their truncated lifespans. P. 5

The major zoonotic risks from producing and consuming industrial pork are zoonotic foodborne bacteria, especially Salmonella pork contamination; antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic-resistant genes in live pigs; and contaminants in pathogenic and commensal bacteria driven by swine industry antimicrobial usage. These environments also foster emerging, epidemic or pandemic zoonotic swine pathogens, especially swine influenza virus. P 11

In the stressful and often unhygienic industrial swine production setting, antimicrobial agents that increase pig production efficiency also allow farmers to partially combat adverse effects introduced by industrialization itself. Thus, antimicrobials are being used to treat diseased animal production systems as much as they are treating swine diseases. P. 16 

Intensive livestock farming also increases zoonotic pandemic risks because of long-distance animal movements, high livestock densities, poor animal health and welfare, low disease resistance, and low commercial pig genetic diversity. P. 19

Extreme and unnecessary swine production methods such as sow gestation crates correlate with adverse human health concerns. Breeding sows act as major incubators, amplifiers, and transmission ports of zoonotic pathogens and antimicrobial resistance. PP. 20-21

 “A pig by itself is not a pig” reflects the fundamental reality that swine behavior becomes abnormal in social isolation. This is a prime reason why individually confining 500-pound pregnant sows in 14 square foot gestation crates for 75 percent of their adult lives in industrial swine settings is so abusive, harmful, and disrespectful to the pigs’ essential nature. P. 23

The industry’s and the AASV’s argument that sow stalls are good for welfare rests on the untenable premise that it is acceptable to prevent an undesirable pattern of behavior – namely, aggression between animals free to attack one another – by restricting all forms of behavior. This is analogous to claiming that prisons would be much more manageable if all inmates were kept permanently in solitary confinement. P. 27

Pigs are intelligent, curious, social, inquisitive, and active animals. Immobilization in gestation crates without environmental enrichment or mental stimulation takes a severe psychological toll. Crated sows are frustrated, bored, and, essentially, clinically depressed. P. 30

Center for a Humane Economy is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) whose mission is to help animals by helping forge a more humane economic order. The first organization of its kind in the animal protection movement, the Center encourages businesses to honor their social responsibilities in a culture where consumers, investors, and other key stakeholders abhor cruelty and the degradation of the environment and embrace innovation as a means of eliminating both. The Center believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @TheHumaneCenter

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News