Whether key provisions of California’s Proposition 12 will be in place by next month is the subject of yet another lawsuit about the measure. That’s when the ballot measure approved by California voters in 2018 is suppose to take effect.

This time, however, its not opponents of Prop 12 that have brought the lawsuit, but the original sponsors. They’ve sued the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) in state Superior Court in Sacramento.

Animal Wellness Action, Animal Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, and Americans for Family Farmers has sued CDFA challenging regulations the agency proposed to implement the law. 

The animal activist  groups claim Proposition 12 was enacted to address animal cruelty, environmental pollution and public health concerns.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act,  Proposition 12’s official name, passed in 2018 with 63 percent of the vote. The law imposes new standards for animal housing.

According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, the measure creates minimum requirements to provide more space for veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens. By 2020, the law required farmers to give egg-laying hens at least one foot of floor space, and to completely eliminate cages by 2022. That’s when farmers must  give veal calves 43 square feet and sows 24 feet of space.

 “CDFA’s proposed regulations conflict with the legislation implementing Proposition 12 by failing to account for the full range of harmful impacts of industrialized systems of animal confinement that have long dominated U.S. meat and egg production,” according to the lawsuit.

CDFA only recently revised and submitted for public comment proposed regulations to implement Proposition 12, which, beginning Jan. 1, 2022, will prohibit the sale of pork from hogs born to sows raised in housing that does not comply with California’s new standards. It applies to any uncooked pork sold in the state, whether produced in California or outside its borders.

Federal courts to date have upheld California’s ability to restrict its market access to producers that submit to its animal housing standards. Only the National Pork Producers and American Farm Bureau Federation’s challenge to Proposition 12 remains alive with a last minute appeal by Indiana to the U.S. Supreme Court.

California has until today (Dec. 8) to respond to NPPC’s lawsuit. Whether the Supreme Court accepts the case won’t be known until early January 2022.

Ahead of implementing regulations, CDFA said there will be no impact on food safety or the mortality rate for sows.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2022, Proposition  12 will prohibit the sale of pork from sows raised in pens that do not comply with California’s housing standards of 24 square feet of space and conditions that allow the sow to turn around freely without touching the enclosure. Nearly all pork currently produced in the United States fails to meet California’s standards.

Californians account for 13 percent of the nation’s pork consumption and imports to California, a massive 99.87 percent of pork consumed.

The industry estimates that converting sow barns or building new ones to meet the Proposition 12 standards run into the billions of dollars. In the end, consumers will bear those costs, according to industry. In the meantime, the products involved will likely be in short supply in California. A bacon shortage, for example, could be severe.

Across the country, 65,000 farmers raise 125 million hogs per year with gross sales of $26 billion. NPPC and AFBF allege that compliance will increase production costs by more than $13 dollars per pig, a 9.2 percent  cost increase at the farm level. Increased production costs will flow through to every market hog born to every sow raised in compliance with Proposition 12, and to every cut of meat from each of those market hogs — regardless of where that meat is sold, according to industry. 

The CDFA has not yet released all final regulations. Pork producers have asked for a two-year delay from the date of any final rules release.

“The California Department of Food and Agriculture has a legal responsibility to propose and enact regulations that conform to all the terms of Proposition 12,” states Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action.

“With its proposed regulations, the agency has embraced the false framing from agribusiness groups and omitted the public health threats caused by confining the animals in cages and crates barely larger than their bodies. It is these overcrowded, high-stress conditions that create dangerous environments for pathogens to emerge and even mutate.”

The animal activists challenge the statement that CDFA proposed regulations that declare the inhumane confinement practices that Proposition 12 was intended to address do not “directly impact human health and welfare of California residents, worker safety or the state’s environment.”

The NPPC says it will submit comments on the revised regulations by the conclusion of a 15-day comment period. In comments on earlier proposed regulations, NPPC pointed out that the rules would require unworkable annual certification of hog farmers’ compliance with the Prop. 12 requirements; create a complex accreditation process for entities allowed to conduct such certifications; impose burdensome and unnecessary recordkeeping requirements on farmers, meat packers and others throughout the pork supply chain; and impose unnecessary and problematic labeling requirements for pork.

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