The voice of pork producers across Canada was heard Oct. 11 as the United States Supreme Court began hearing arguments against California’s controversial Proposition 12.
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The law, initially approved by the state’s voters in 2018, governs the management and housing of any farm livestock – within California’s boundaries and beyond – that are sold as food in the state.
Why it matters: Proposition 12 could mean that Canada will not be able to supply the market in California. The state imports the majority of its pork from other states as well as Canada and Mexico.
Supporters of Proposition 12 say it strengthens the regulations set out in Proposition 2, which was introduced in 2008 as a means to enforce housing standards for several livestock species. Proposition 12 establishes new minimum requirements for providing more space for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal, and California businesses will be banned from selling eggs or uncooked pork or veal that came from animals housed in ways that do not meet requirements.
Led by the U.S.-based National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation, Proposition 12 was appealed first at U.S. District Court, then at the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Both lower courts sided with the state.
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In March 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal and in June, acting as an “amici curiae” – or “friend of the court” – the Canadian Pork Council (CPC) joined a national coalition with Mexico and the Illinois Pork Producers in filing an argument supporting the appeal.
In its argument, the coalition notes the North American pork industry is highly integrated and that last year alone, Canada exported nearly five million feeder pigs, more than 1.5 million market hogs and more than 1.4 million tonnes of finished pork products to the United States. In 2021, Mexico exported more than 80,000 tons of pork products to the U.S.
Speaking to Farmtario, CPC director Gary Stordy said trade is the main concern.
“The rule impacts our ability to serve the California market.”
Stordy said it was natural that the Canadian pork industry got involved in the Supreme Court appeal.
Leaders of the U.S. pork industry who are pushing for a challenge include some who have worked closely with Canadian hog producers for many years.
The joint submission from Canada, Mexico and the Illinois Pork Producers explains that “each year, independent Illinois pork producers import more than 100,000 head of feeder hogs born on sow farms in Canada.”
NPPC assistant vice-president Michael Formica, in an interview published June 21 on swineweb.com, welcomed support from the U.S. industry’s North American neighbours.
“Both pork is coming down but also a lot of piglets are coming down from Canada and being finished in the U.S. and will end up in the market, in the stream of commerce and that pork will be in California,” Formica said.
“They will have to comply with Prop 12. Those farms will need to register with California. They will be subjected to inspectors from the state of California. It’s bad enough in Iowa, where we are right now, but if you’re in Canada, that’s a breach of Canada’s sovereignty. It’s ridiculous but yet that’s what’s going to happen.”
The entwined nature of the three nations’ pork industries means “it is nearly impossible to trace a particular pork product back through the supply chain to the original breeder sow,” says the submission to the court.
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“Thus, to comply with Proposition 12, Canadian and Mexican sow farmers would need to reconfigure housing facilities for all breeder sows — even for sows whose offspring would never touch California — or implement onerous segregation practices.”
Stordy says part of California’s Proposition 12 justification includes an analysis from the state’s agriculture department estimating how much it would cost a typical hog farm to comply with the rules. It cited $60,000 but “we find that hard to believe.” CPC suggests $200,000 is closer to the mark.
Stordy said some producers who have built new barns with loose housing may see a lower cost, such as Quebec-based processor duBreton. It produces a line of “humane-certified” pork sourced from Canadian farms and said earlier this year that it will be in compliance with Prop 12.
“But we have a number of producers with well-maintained barns, good structures, but they don’t have the housing that is set out in these rules,” Stordy said.
There is also a period of learning and transition, for producers and animals, when converting to loose housing and that costs money. It’s not reasonable to expect a quick transition from one housing system to another.
“There’s a cost. There’s a time. And whether it’s the producer or the animals, there’s that need to adjust.”
Inspection and certification are additional aspects. Canada has regulations but it’s unknown whether California would accept them or whether it would insist that its own inspectors certify Canadian operations. That is part of the official “friend of the court” submission.
“Mexico and Canada attend to animal welfare and have their own criteria for the care and handling of pigs – criteria that, in many respects, take a more holistic approach than California, and conflict with Proposition 12’s housing-space requirements,” the joint submission states.
“California’s extraterritorial regulation of Mexican and Canadian sow farms would thwart those nations’ own considered choices about how to protect animal welfare.”
Stordy says Proposition 12 is precedent-setting in terms of having a rule that impacts people outside the jurisdiction.
Yet California voters and legislators are not alone in pursuing control of livestock welfare. Massachusetts has proposed similar legislation, Stordy said, and “there are a number of other states (with like-minded rules) in various stages of implementation.”
The U.S. Supreme Court may be seen by the public as the last step of the challenge, “but this is not the last step for animal activists,” Stordy said.
“These people have very publicly stated they want the end of all animal agriculture. We have seen various activists attack industries in one way or another. This is a legal type attack … and not likely the last one.”
California may seem far away but “it is hitting close to home when you look at some of the tactics that these people are using.”