WASHINGTON — On January 1, California’s 2018 ballot measure Proposition 12, which set landmark prohibitions on the sale of food products from farm animals locked in cruel and extreme confinement, will be fully implemented in the state. Proposition 12’s egg and veal provisions have been in place for years; its pork provisions were effective in August 2023, but retailers in California were given until December 31 to sell any remaining non-compliant pork products that were already in the stream of commerce.
“We are thrilled that Proposition 12, the nation’s strongest farm animal protection law, is finally fully implemented. No animal deserves to spend her life in a cage where she’s virtually immobilized,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “From drafting the ballot initiative to successfully defending the measure in courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Humane Society of the United States has been at the center of fighting for this landmark law.”
Proposition 12, a successful 2018 ballot measure that the HSUS spearheaded, prohibits the in-state production and sale of products produced via the extreme confinement of mother pigs, egg-laying chickens and calves used for veal. It bans the use of gestation crates, which are metal cages that are so small they prevent mother pigs from being able to turn around, for products sold in California. As a result of this extreme confinement, the pigs suffer psychological stress as well as several physical harms, including urinary infections, weakened bones, overgrown hooves and lameness.
The extreme confinement of animals in our food system carries significant public health risks. Locking farm animals in tiny cages is not only inhumane and cruel, it increases the risk of food safety threats like salmonella and E. coli, while also increasing the risk of another pandemic. The American Public Health Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America and Center for Food Safety voiced their support for the constitutionality of Proposition 12, and stated that when mother pigs are locked in crates that prevent them from even turning around, their immune systems become severely suppressed. This makes both them and their offspring “more susceptible to disease.” These diseases can spread to humans, since pigs are “ideal mixing vessels for various strains of influenza virus, including human influenza.”
Proposition 12 passed with the approval of nearly two thirds of California voters. Pork lobbyists claimed that it would negatively impact the economy, but those claims have been repeatedly debunked. The pork industry itself has a significant amount of control in terms of supply and pricing. The industry has repeatedly been sued and entered into settlements of over $75 million in the last year alone for conspiring to fix prices.
Pork lobbyists also challenged the measure in courts, taking their case up to the Supreme Court of the U.S., which upheld the law in May 2023. But in a brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court by small and independent farming businesses, more than 100 family farmers said, “Proposition 12 is a farmer-friendly statute that protects animal welfare while providing important new production and marketing opportunities to family farmers.”
Major pork producers, restaurants and grocery stores, including Albertsons, Chipotle and Niman Ranch, have already made the transition to be compliant with Prop 12. Companies like Hormel Foods, Clemens Food Group, Perdue, DuBreton farms and Tyson Foods have all publicly stated they can meet the demand for crate-free pork produced in accordance with Prop 12 standards. Many pork producers have publicly touted that they’ve moved away from gestation crates and are supplying the California market. In a brief that Perdue submitted to the Supreme Court, it stated that “the market has shifted to create strong demand for pork that is farmed humanely and without cruelty. Proposition 12 reflects that shift in consumer preferences.”
In addition to Prop 12 in California, 14 states have passed similar laws addressing cruel farm animal containment. Polling conducted in 2022 by the polling firm Data for Progress found that 80% of U.S. voters favor a law within their state like Proposition 12, including roughly equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats. States with laws prohibiting one or more forms of extreme confinement span the political spectrum of red, blue and purple states.
“Voters from California to Florida are exercising their rights at the ballot box by voting for animal welfare laws, and the federal government should not interfere with their right to do so,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “At a time when we should be celebrating the will of the people, some members of Congress are seeking to overturn it. But there’s very strong bipartisan support we’ve garnered to stop the pork lobby’s efforts to undermine states’ rights. Big pork has already lost at ballot boxes in the states, twice in the US Congress, in the lower courts and at the Supreme Court. It’s time to shut the door on antiquated gestation crates.”
Almost immediately after Proposition 12 was upheld by the Supreme Court, the pork lobby doubled down on pushing the “Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression” (EATS) Act (H.R. 4417 and S. 2019) in Congress, with the specific goal to invalidate Prop 12 and laws like it. The broad scope of the EATS Act could wipe out many states’ agricultural laws, including those impacting food safety, infectious diseases, kosher and halal labeling standards, and the prevention of invasive pests that threaten crops. A report published by Harvard Law School in July provided a snapshot of over 1,000 state and local laws across the country that could be negated if the EATS Act becomes law.
More than 200 federal lawmakers spanning 35 states have now publicly expressed that neither the EATS Act nor any related legislation should be part of the upcoming Farm Bill. This included 30 Senators who sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee leadership and 172 Representatives who sent a letter to House Agriculture Committee leaders.
In November 2023, 30 law professors from schools around the country sent a letter to the Agriculture Committee leadership in both chambers of Congress, expressing concern over the EATS Act. The professors stated that the EATS Act would lead to “an unprecedented chilling of state and local legislation on matters historically regulated at the state and local level” and “create a staggeringly uncertain legal and regulatory landscape.”
In addition, a diverse set of more than 3,000 entities, including organizations ranging from the Sierra Club to FreedomWorks, as well as hundreds of veterinarians and more than 2,400 farms across the country, have publicly stated opposition to the EATS Act and any related legislation. Some of America’s major pork producers such as Niman Ranch and the Clemens Food Group publicly stated that they do not support the EATS Act.