CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments on whether a California animal rights law violates the dormant commerce clause, which gives Congress the “sole” authority to regulate commerce among states.
The National Pork Producers Council is challenging the portion of California Proposition 12 that prohibits the use of gestation crates, which confine pregnant mother pigs to a space of seven by two feet.
NPCC contends the law violates the dormant commerce clause because it affects all pork producers in the country, including more than 2,100 pig farms in Illinois.
Illinois farmers would have to change their practices if they want to sell pork to California, the nation’s third-largest state. NPCC said having to abide by the regulations is costly and would put many farmers out of business.
“One state should not be able to regulate commerce in another state and set arbitrary standards that lack any scientific, technical or agricultural basis,” NPCC said in a statement.
“We’d be in a mess as a country if any state was able to veto or second guess the practices of a farmer or rancher across the country. At the bottom, this hurts not just small farmers who won’t be able to forward to comply with these kinds of regulations, but also families who value a good and accessible source of protein,” said NPCC chief legal strategist Michael Formica during a media briefing.
But supporters of California Prop 12 contend gestation crates are cruel and outdated. The law would require pigs to be given at least 24 square feet of space.
“These pigs are confined to cages that are essentially the same size as their body. These pigs can’t even turn around, they can’t take a step forward. They’re essentially inside a living coffin for virtually their entire lives,” said Jeremy Beckham, spokesperson for Direct Action Everywhere, a California-based animal rights organzation.
Beckham said society needs to recognize pigs are sentient, capable of feeling pain, fear and suffering.
“Pigs are actually highly intelligent animals. They’re more intelligent even than our dogs that we share homes with and for them to live in that kind of barren, deprived environment drives them crazy. They start to bite the bars of their cage out of frustration and boredom ’cause there’s literally nothing else for them to do. And all of this is just so that the factory farming industry in the pork industry can make a quick buck to make a little bit more money cramming a few more animals into a shed,” he said.
NPCC chief legal strategist Michael Formica said it’s also an argument about moral will versus safety and health issues. He argued California has just one-tenth of 1% of the country’s pig farms, so virtually all pork consumed in the state is imported from other states.
“The risk you would always have is different states having different competing morals. California…voted for this, but we have pork producers…and their morals, as the justices pointed out, command them to take care of the animals and then to produce this food,” he said.
The case was rejected in federal district court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court will issue its ruling next spring.