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California's Prop 12 makes big changes to animal welfare

On January 1, the new animal welfare law took full effect in California, stipulating that livestock must meet confinement space requirements in order to be sold.

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Mark Stebnicki |

Voters and animal rights activists in the state of California have been advocating for more spacious holding pens for livestock animals since 2018, with their efforts coming to fruition this week. When posed on the ballot in 2018, 62.66% of voters agreed minimum space requirements should be met by producers, with this vote cemented into California law last summer by a 5-4 vote in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Proposition 12 strictly prohibits the sale of animal products such as beef, eggs and pork, unless the animal is held in a sizeable area. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation pushed back against the law, asserting that Prop 12 would violate the constitution's Commerce Clause. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that this was not the case, though the vote was very close. The implementation of Prop 12 was moved from July 1, 2023 to January 1, 2024 to allow noncompliant pork products to be sold and removed from the market chain on or before December 31.

Prop 12 also stipulates that gestation crates may not be used on pigs intended for sale any longer in California, with The Humane Society of the United States saying in its December 28 press release, gestation crates "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."

In a statement from NPPC CEO Bryan Humphreys after the Supreme Court ruling in the summer of 2023, he said: “While this temporary solution does not solve the challenges and uncertainty California Proposition 12 brings to our industry, NPPC looks forward to working with Congress to find a permanent solution to this problem.”

Following California's example, many states have passed legislature regarding animal containment. Industry leader Sara Wyant noted that the ag trends in California frequently spread across the U.S., making Prop 12 just one more example of California's influence on agriculture nationwide. 

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