Written By: Kristen Green
The Supreme Court of the United States has released a number of arguably controversial opinions during its 2022 to 2023 sessions. One of them was the opinion in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, which concerns pork products being sold in California and whether recent amendments to California law violate the United States Commerce Clause.
In 2018, California voters approved Proposition 12, amending portions of the California Health and Safety Code governing the conditions in which livestock, including pigs, chickens, and calves intended for veal, are raised. These conditions primarily apply to the space allotted for each type of animal identified within the law. Although Proposition 12 was passed in 2018, the California state government did not start enforcing it until January 1, 2020, when it began enforcing the new confinement standards for calves that are being raised for veal meat products. On January 1, 2022, the California state government began enforcing the confinement standards for egg-laying hens and for breeding pigs whose offspring are being raised for pork products.
Just days before the California State Government began enforcing the first part of Proposition 12 in 2020, the National Pork Producers Council filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Director of the California Department of Public Health, and the Attorney General of California. In its lawsuit, the National Pork Producers Council claimed that Proposition 12 violated the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution because it was forcing pig farmers that live and work outside of California to adhere to California state law and regulating interstate commerce, which traditionally falls under the governance of the federal government. The case made its way through the federal court system until it was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in October of 2022.
In May 2023, the Supreme Court finally issued a ruling in which it found that Proposition 12 did not violate the Commerce Clause, meaning that Proposition 12 may be enforced against out-of-state producers who seek to sell their products in California. After a related temporary injunction pertaining to pork meat being sold in California was lifted on July 1, 2023, Proposition 12 is now completely enforceable in California, meaning that any non-compliant animal products may not be sold in California going forward.
This is not the first law in California that has affected the manufacturing and retail process outside of California. We have represented out-of-state companies in lawsuits involving allegations of noncompliance with Proposition 65, which is a law that requires labeling on products that contain chemicals on a list that the California state government has assembled. Prop 65 also heavily impacts products that are manufactured and have distribution chains that begin outside of California. Producers of eggs, veal, and pork products outside of California now find themselves in the same predicament. They must make a decision to either adapt to the new, much more stringent laws, or ensure that their products are never sold in California. If the producers of eggs, veal, and pork products fail to do so, then they face a misdemeanor criminal punishment of a $1,000 fine or 180 days in prison, as well as civil fines. Manufacturers and retailers should take steps to ensure compliance with these new laws in order to avoid criminal and civil punishments under Proposition 12.