The Story Behind California’s Proposition 12 and its Impact on Out-of-State Producers

Update: Judge Christina A. Snyder ruled against the lawsuit brought by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) stating Proposition 12 was in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

California’s Proposition 12 could potentially impact the way out of state producers of eggs, pork, and veal do business with the state.

The proposition establishes new standards for confinement of certain farm animals and bans the sale of products that do not comply with the new confinement standards in the state. Specifically, Proposition 12 requires that all eggs sold in the state come from cage-free hens by 2022, and it also bans the sale of pork and veal in California from farm animals raised in cages that do not meet new minimum size requirements. Therefore, farmers across the country who sell eggs, veal, and pork in California will be required to comply with Proposition 12.

Currently, the North American Meat Institute has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the proposition stating that it is a hindrance to the “interstate commerce” clause of the Constitution.

However, Proposition 12 was not the first effort by California voters to establish standards for animal housing. In 2008, California voters passed the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act by a wide margin. The purpose of that ballot measure, known as Proposition 2, was “to prohibit the cruel confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.”

As a result of the proposition passing, egg producers challenged the vague language in court as it did not define the specifics of “cage-free.” As a result, the industry created its own guidelines for housing known as “enriched colony housing systems.”

According to Poultry World in 2011, JS West & Company, a family-owned egg farming business in California, installed and opened the first enriched colony housing system for layer hens in the United States. American Humane Certified, the nation’s largest and oldest third-party certification of farm animal welfare, certified the new system installed at JS West.

The Big Dutchman AVECH housing system installed at JS West & Company included 10 rows and 6 tiers with each row measuring 498 feet long that housed approximately 150,000 birds with 116 square inches per bird.

After the law took effect in 2015, egg prices rose by as much as 33 percent, according to a study by Perdue University. By July 2016, the study found that the number of laying hens decreased by 35 percent, and prices stabilized to nine percent higher. Prior to the proposition going into full effect, eggs were being imported from several states to make-up for the production loss. The state legislature in an effort to enforce its standards on other states passed A.B. 1437 in 2010. The bill shifted the legal burden of Proposition 2 from egg producers to vendors, requiring that all eggs sold in California comply with the new standards, regardless of where they are laid. Six states at the time filed a lawsuit against California on the grounds that Proposition 2 violates the Commerce Clause by imposing state regulations on interstate trade. Federal courts rejected this challenge despite several appeals.

Since the passage of Proposition 2, twelve other states have brought similar propositions to the ballot similar to California’s Proposition 12. A 2016 Massachusetts law bans the sale of products from illegally confined animals is mired in lawsuits from other states, citing a violation of interstate commerce rules.

Proposition 12 requires 144 square inches per hen (current rules are 116) until December 31, 2021, and then bans the use of any cages. Sows confined to gestation crates during pregnancy have 24 square feet of space, and veal calves 43 square feet. The passage of the measure could potentially set a new standard for cages and crates for other farm animals, a standard that would mark an increase over the average space available to these animals nationwide.

Previous lawsuits regarding the Commerce Clause could be a barometer for the lawsuit brought by the North American Meat Institute. California tends to set the national agenda for social and environmental policy. The consideration of the agenda set by Proposition 2, and now, 12 asks two questions. Will the regulations improve the lives of animals and their facilities? Second, will this legislation continue to set a precedent for other states and lead to comprehensive animal improvements?