Overturning American elections to benefit foreign-owned, pork-producing corporations and vertically organized factory farms was never in our national interest
Washington, D.C. — The nation’s most important farm animal welfare law, California’s Proposition 12, takes full effect as the new year begins, signaling a new, more humane era in American agriculture.
“Final implementation of Prop 12 in the new year not only provides the prospect of dramatically better living conditions for pigs in American agriculture, but it provides a critical market for thousands of pig farmers who have never relied on extreme confinement practices or who have shifted away from immobilizing crates to access the California market and others with humane treatment standards,” said Wayne Pacelle, a key architect of Prop 12 in California and Question 3 in Massachusetts and president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy.
California announced some months ago that full implementation of Prop 12 would commence in January 2024. Last summer, officials with the California Department of Food and Agriculture said that pork already in the supply chain at that time could be sold in the state through the end of the year. The state has registered more than 1,200 distributors to sell Prop 12-compliant eggs and pork. (The roster of distributors can be found here.)
In addition to celebrating the implementation of Prop 12, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy called on some farm-state lawmakers in Congress to end their campaign to overturn American elections and to stop pushing the EATS Act or any derivative of it. The EATs Act was introduced in June by Senator Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa. Next, in October, Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced the Protecting Interstate Commerce for Livestock Producers Act in yet another effort to undermine and undo a May 2023 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding Proposition 12.
The Hawley legislation would prevent state and local entities from regulating the production, raising or importation of livestock and livestock goods from other states. It would have the effect of ensuring that foreign-owned hog producers like China’s WH Group (formerly Shuanghui Group), which owns one of six pigs raised in the United States, remains immune from any measure taken by states to implement reasonable standards of animal care or to protect human and environmental health from the impacts of industrialized meat production. China is building high-rise hog factories that not only immobilize pigs for their entire lives, but also stand 29 stories high.
The American-owned egg and veal industries also covered under Prop 12 have already embraced the new production standards, as have tens of thousands of U.S.-based pig farmers who no longer rely on gestation crates.
History of the Ballot Measures
Voters approved Prop 12 in November 2018 in a landslide vote. Its provisions barring the sale of eggs from hens in extreme confinement have been in place since January 2020 but the requirements that pork sold in the state come from farms that give the animals space to move have been delayed by a series of failed legal actions. The provision relating to sow housing was to take effect in January 2022, but it was delayed by legal actions and hedging behavior from some California officials. The U.S. Supreme Court settled the matter with a May 2023 ruling written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and supported by a range of conservatives and liberals on the high court. But even after that dispositive ruling, the State of California allowed pork already in the supply chain from factory farms to be sold in California through the end of 2023.
Question 3 in Massachusetts has been in full effect since late August 2023. McDonald’s, Costco, and dozens of other major food retailers have been shifting their procurement practices, purchasing pork from farmers who give the animals space to move.
In October, 16 Republican House Members sent a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Agriculture urging that the anti-states-rights measure be omitted from the Farm bill. The letter was led by Reps. Andrew Garbarino, R-N.Y., David Valadao, R-Calif., Mike Waltz, R-Fla., and Nancy Mace, R-S.C. Animal Wellness Action helped organize the letter, noting that the EATS Act would overturn key statewide elections, mainly to benefit Smithfield and other foreign-owned pork industry conglomerates. Specifically, the primary targets of the EATS Act are Proposition 12 in California and Question 3 in Massachusetts, which stipulate that whole pork cuts sold in those states must come from farms that do not severely confine the sows in gestation crates.
The Republican-only letter comes after 171 House members (166 Democrats and 5 Republicans) and 30 Senators (29 Democrats and 1 Republican) sent letters to Agriculture Committee leaders some weeks ago opposing the sweeping bill to nullify state agriculture laws called the EATS Act.
“The transition away from gestation crates, which has been in motion for the last two decades, shows again that American farmers are the most adaptable and innovative in the world,” noted the 16 Republican signers. “Farmers know how to compete, and they don’t need the heavy and often distant hand of federal government picking winners and losers.”
The lawmakers also took note that no agricultural sector in the United States has a larger share of Chinese ownership than the pork industry, with Smithfield Foods alone controlling 26 percent of pig production. “If this pork-specific provision is incorporated into the Farm Bill, it would provide Chinese owners of U.S. factory farms with a mechanism to bypass state-level laws and rapidly acquire even more American land and pork industry assets with no restraints at all,” wrote the Republican lawmakers from all wings of the Republican conference.
More than 40 percent of U.S. breeding sows are already in group housing systems, rather than gestation crates, according to a recent market analysis and report issued by the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action. The report documents that California and Massachusetts together will require just 6 percent of total U.S. pork production to come from facilities that allow the sows an opportunity to lie down, stand up, and turn around.
“It is frustrating that the pork industry, even though it lost a series of elections and a long running string of federal court cases, was able to delay implementation of Prop 12 and Question 3 and temporarily thwart the will of voters in two U.S. states,” added Mr. Wayne Pacelle. “But the legal issues are settled, and the law goes into full effect this week, and that delivers a major advance when it comes to creating a more humane, safer food production system in our nation. If lawmakers include any version of the highly partisan and dangerous EATS Act in the Farm bill, it will put passage of that important food-and-farm bill at risk,”
“The Congress should not be in the business of overturning state elections to drive more vertical integration within a U.S. pork industry already heavily infiltrated by foreign-owned factory-farming multinationals,” said Jim Keen, DVM., Ph.D., director of veterinary sciences for the Center for a Humane Economy and primary author of the market report on the EATS Act.
Efforts to adopt a similar measure to EATS were rejected as amendments to the 2014 and 2018 Farm bills, and that was prior to the Supreme Court of the United States declaring that Prop 12 and Question 3 were constitutional and proper exercises of state authority.
The National Pork Producers Council has come up on the losing side on five of five ballot measures on gestation-crate confinement, each one by double-digit margins, with landslide votes in California (63% “Yes” vote) and Massachusetts (78% “Yes” vote). It lost 12 of 12 court cases challenging Prop 2 and Prop 12, including the SCOTUS ruling in May 2023.
The Center’s report notes that Prop 12 and Question 3 exempt all combined and canned pork products, which represent about 42 percent of pork sales in California and Massachusetts. This means that nearly half of the pork sold in these two states need not come from farms providing some ample living space to the sows.
There are thousands of organizations that oppose the EATS Act and its derivatives. Included among the opponents are 16 state Attorneys General who announced their opposition this fall, the National Governors Association, the National Association of Counties, and the League of Cities.