The norm on factory farms is to lock egg-laying hens, mother pigs and calves used for veal in cages so small they’re virtually immobilized. In 2018, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 12, a historic ballot measure that banned the extreme confinement of these animals within the state. Proposition 12 also ensures that eggs, pork, and veal sold in California come from facilities where the animals were not confined in tiny cages where they can’t turn around and otherwise engage in natural behaviors.
Rather than choosing to comply with this reasonable measure, some members of the pork industry filed a lawsuit attempting to overturn Proposition 12, which the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear.
The Trump administration supported the pork industry’s suit by filing an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit in favor of striking down this important law. We believe that filing reflected a misunderstanding of the purpose of Proposition 12, as it relied on the industry’s mischaracterization of the ballot measure. The Biden administration has an opportunity to correct this misunderstanding, and we’re urging the administration to support California’s authority and Proposition 12 before the Supreme Court.
We are not alone in this view. We are grateful to Congresswoman Kim Schrier, D-Wash., for leading a sign-on letter urging the Biden administration to support Proposition 12. In just a short time, her letter garnered signatures from 100 members of the House Democratic caucus spanning 24 states—from Arizona to Kansas to North Carolina—demonstrating that the Proposition 12 case is a matter of broad concern across the country. The signatories included 17 members of the House Judiciary Committee, who joined in this request for a firm federal stance before the U.S. Supreme Court in support of states’ rights to legislate to protect their citizens. Just last month, Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sent their own letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack urging the Biden administration to support Proposition 12 before the Supreme Court.
The pork industry’s challenge to Proposition 12 has serious implications for all states’ ability to promote animal welfare, protect public health and take action on climate change, among other concerns. While this case may appear to be only about pork, the Supreme Court’s decision could dictate how states are able to protect their people and environments from dangerous practices by large, multistate conglomerates. Pork industry representatives claim the United States Constitution is violated any time in-state regulation of a business indirectly causes that business to adjust its out-of-state operations. They’re essentially trying to create a “big business” exemption from regulations that protect animals, the environment and public health. This theory is particularly dangerous and threatening to state climate change laws, which oil industry trade groups and others have so far unsuccessfully challenged, making the same sort of arguments the pork industry is making in this case before the Supreme Court.
Climate change not only creates more severe weather, posing serious risk and harm to humans, but it will have devastating consequences for animals. Just last month, the Washington Post reported that ocean animals face mass extinction from climate change. The National Park Service has warned that climate change can cause animal starvation since rising temperatures can reduce food sources. And of course, animals ranging from pets to those at zoos and farms are in jeopardy from increasingly intense and frequent storms.
The case against Proposition 12 doesn’t just threaten states’ ability to protect the environment. A ruling in favor of the pork industry could also allow giant corporations to dodge state laws that prohibit, for example, wildlife trafficking, unsafe worker conditions, and child labor.
We hope the Biden administration will heed the appeal by Congresswoman Schrier and other legislators and support California’s ability to protect animals, the environment and public health via Proposition 12. Proposition 12 is crucial for what it does in the interests of animals raised for food. And it is crucial for many other concerns, too. For all these reasons, we’re doing our best to persuade the federal government to adopt a better position in the case before the Supreme Court.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.