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Agriculture, U.S. Constitution, lose in California court

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A 72-year-old judge, Christina A. Snyder, appointed by President Clinton in 1997, handed the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) , U.S. agriculture,l and the Constitution of the United States a stunning legal defeat at a November 18, 2019 court hearing in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California (North American Meat Institute v. Becerra).

Judge Snyder, a member of the Beverly Hills California Bar Association, eviscerated NAMI’s arguments that California’s Proposition 12 was unconstitutional. You may recall from my October blog NAMI alleged California’s Proposition 12 violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause . NAMI claimed Proposition 12 discriminated against out-of-state producers, distributors, and sellers of pork and veal.  It also argued California was impermissibly regulating the production of pork and veal in the other 49 states.

It was also argued that Proposition 12 burdened interstate commerce in a manner which succeeded any legitimate local benefits.

The legal posture on November 18 was NAMI filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction (PI) along with numerous declarations to stop implementation of Proposition 12. The declarations did a terrific job in describing the enormous impact California’s Proposition 12 will have on animal agriculture in 49 other states. Immediately animal welfare organizations such as Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, The Humane League, Farm Sanctuary, and Compassion in World Farming USA filed to intervene in opposition to NAMI’s request for a PI to stop Proposition 12’s requirements.

What does it all mean?

— In less than a month (Jan. 1, 2020), all veal calves sold into California must have 43 square feet of floor space per calf. If a farmer cannot prove this fact, then he/she will not be able to sell veal product into California.
— By Jan. 1, 2022, all pork operations will be required to have 24 square feet per sow.
— California’s law requires a meat processor to sell “whole veal meat” and “whole pork meat” from calves and sows housed pursuant to California’s space requirements.
California voters and the state’s persuasive animal rights friends are imposing these requirements for animal production on 49 other states. California and its intervenor friends believe animal cruelty is being practiced because of farm animal confinement (CAFOs). California consumers and its government believe that such confinement threatens their health and safety (NONSENSE).
Judge Snyder accepted these arguments totally and pointed out California’s initiative passed with 63% of California’s voters. Judge Snyder stated that NAMI “…fail[ed] to establish that discrimination against out of state commerce, or economic protectionism, drove passage…” of either Proposition 12 or its implementing legislation.

Is confinement safe?

She claimed legislative history demonstrated there were health risks from food-borne bacteria derived from confinement. She stated public health reports by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Production, the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations support California’s rationale. Judge Snyder stated “…that Proposition 12 does not have a discriminatory purpose that would invalidate it per se.”
Because of Judge Snyder’s “extensive” agricultural experience, she stated Proposition 12 did not impose nor contemplate “differential treatment of in-state and out-of-state economic interests that benefits the former and burdens the latter.”

Judge Snyder, a graduate of Stanford Law School stated, “A state statute is unconstitutional not just when it discriminates on its face or in its purpose but also where it has a discriminatory effect.” Her Honor relied on a 9th Circuit case dealing with force-fed ducks or geese in a Foie gras case . She found the Foie gras case in every respect exactly the same as NAMI’s challenge.

Judge Snyder said,  “Proposition 12 does not have a discriminatory effect that requires per se invalidation.”  She believes California and the animal rights groups have a right to determine that animal production techniques used in 49 other states “…are inhumane and harmful.”  Judge Snyder also stated, “The Commerce Clause is not a safety valve for those who are simply political process losers.”

A version of this commentary originally appeared in the December 2, 2019 edition of Farm Progress.
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