The United States Supreme Court just released its decision on the country's most pivotal farmed animal welfare case—NATIONAL PORK PRODUCERS COUNCIL ET AL. v. ROSS, SECRETARY OF THE CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE, ET AL. —upholding California's Prop 12, the strongest piece of farmed animal legislation in the US.

In 2018, California residents voted by ballot measure to ban the sale of pig products that come from producers that use gestation crates, individual crates the size of an adult pig's body that mother pigs are confined to 24/7 for the full gestation of their pregnancies, unable to turn around. In response, the pork industry sued and the case made its way to the nation's highest court.

If the Supreme Court had not upheld Prop 12, years of advocacy efforts would have been nullified and advocates would no longer be able to pursue state-level legislative interventions that improve welfare by banning the sale of particularly cruelly produced animal products. It would have been a tremendous setback for the US animal welfare movement. Instead, today is a huge victory.

Groups like HSUS spearheaded efforts to uphold Prop 12, even in the face of massive opposition. The case exemplified the extent to which even left-leaning politicians side with animal industry over animal welfare, as even the Biden administration sided with the pork industry.

Today is a monumental moment for farmed animal advocacy. Congratulations to everyone who worked to make this happen!

Read more about it:

  • Summary and analysis from Lewis Bollard (Senior Program Officer for Farm Animal Welfare at Open Phil) here on Twitter.
  • Victory announcement by the Humane Society of the United States here.
  • New York Times coverage here.
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This is great news! As a frame for how unlikely it was: the Supreme Court reversed 82% of decisions in the October 2021 term. So base rates would have given only a 18% chance of this being upheld.

Seems maybe noteworthy that the decision cites Matthew Scully's piece in National Review. I wonder if having a respected conservative advocate for animals in a respected conservative outlet made any difference here? (Probably not given that the opinion doesn't hinge on animal welfare concerns.)

Some of DxE's cases have been impacted by the courts not even allowing the defendants to describe animal welfare conditions (though not completely curtailed). Perhaps the somewhat more open reception to the facts of the matter in this particular case helped - at the very least, the industry attempted the clearly outrageous argument that confinement was actually good for the pigs.

Could also be something to do with the possible implications for abortion or, ironically, the Biden admin's support. 

This is THE BEST news I've heard for animals in a while. So exciting.

Maybe I'm optimistic but I do think this opens up a really viable strategy for gradual policy shifts across the US starting in states where sales bans are most tractable ...

The opinion is quite a crazy read: the justices generally agreed on the outcome, but it's a patchwork of "concurring in part and dissenting in part"s.

That is sometimes a sign, as here, that none of the options open to the Justices are particularly appetizing either from a doctrinal or a broader policy standpoint.

If you set aside the fact that this particular case is about California and improved animal welfare standards, you have the fact that State A is passing legislation that may have significant practical nationwide effects, even though the vast majority of the relevant transactions have nothing to do with State A. That's anti-democratic and not good federalism. And anyone who likes it when State A is California should consider that it may be Florida or Alabama next time.

But a broad anti-regulatory interpretation allows a race to the bottom, in which a single state can push its own preferred low standards against the other 49. And it bulldozes the state's right to control what happens within its borders. Are most people here old enough to remember when most credit card companies were in South Dakota due to favorable usury and other laws?

Finally, having one or more federal judges weigh the state's legitimate interest in enacting a regulation against the effects to transactions not involving that state poses its own problems. That's really hard to do in a principled way that respects the judicial role and doesn't merely impose the judge's own ethical views on the litigants.

Pretty funny in the opinion!:

"under this Court’s dormant Commerce Clause decisions, no State may use its laws to discriminate purposefully against out-of-state economic interests. But the pork producers do not suggest that California’s law offends this principle. Instead, they invite us to fashion two new and more aggressive constitutional restrictions on the ability of States to regulate goods sold within their borders. We decline that invitation. While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list."

Thanks for sharing some encouraging and hopeful news! We could all use a few wins these days.

This is good news! I'm not familiar enough with the law to know whether this ruling is constitutionally justified, I would have preferred to see the Supreme Court ban animal confinement entirely on 13th Amendment grounds, but society is not currently at a point where that has even a distant chance of happening, so I'm happy with this Prop 12 ruling.

Congratulations and big thank yous to all the advocates who work for this to happen!

As much as we should celebrate, we should also keep in mind that how close we were to end up with a catastrophic result. It is in a sense sad that it took so much for this win, way too much.

But for now, we will take it....

Amazing news! Does anyone know what percent of pigs spend their in gestation crates? I'm able to find data on overall population numbers, but I can't find what percent of them become pregnant.

In 2022, 8.5% of pigs farmed in the US, or 6.17 million, were classified as "breeders" [1]According to The Humane Society, roughly 70% of breeding pigs are kept in gestation crates [2]. This would mean that there were approximately 4.319 million pigs kept in gestation crates in 2022.

  1. ^
  2. ^

WOOOOOHOOOOOOOOO! So exciting to hear the good news!

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