The Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in a case that will determine whether California will be required to allow meat from tortured pigs to be sold within the state. California passed a ballot initiative in 2018, Proposition 12, that requires pigs and egg-laying hens to be given a certain minimum amount of living space if their products are to be sold within the state of California. The National Pork Producers Council argues that this rule—which requires sows to be given at least 24 square feet of space to live in and to be allowed to turn around, rather than living in “gestation crates”—is burdensome and unconstitutional.
The fact that the factory farming industry thinks such a modest requirement for humane conditions would be an absurd and costly burden tells you a lot about just how bad the conditions are today. Prop 12’s basic requirement is that pigs—sensitive, intelligent, emotionally sophisticated creatures who are currently treated as indistinguishable from machines—not be imprisoned in tiny crates. An industry that cannot satisfy this basic requirement should not exist.
The pork industry has lost its federal legal challenge twice now. Both the district court and the appellate court have tossed out the challenge and rejected the argument that California violated the U.S. Constitution. And yet, appallingly, as the pork industry tries a third time to get the will of the people of California overturned by the federal courts, it has an ally in the Biden administration. The Biden Department of Justice has filed an amicus curiae brief fully supporting the pork producers’ claims and asking the right-wing Supreme Court to invalidate California’s anti-cruelty law.
The Biden administration’s brief might as well have been written by the factory farming industry itself. It favorably cites the industry’s assertions that the standards would actually hurt pigs rather than help them, and tries to undercut California’s claim that pigs crammed in tiny crates pose a risk to human health:
[P]etitioners plausibly allege that California’s confinement standards do not advance human health and safety. Petitioners explain why, in their view, California’s standards are “arbitrary,” Pet. App. 219a, and “inconsistent with industry practices and standards, generations of producer experience, [and] scientific research”… Petitioners also allege that Proposition 12 may lead to farming practices that decrease sow welfare … and increase pathogen transmission… And petitioners further allege that there is no link between Proposition 12’s housing requirements for breeding pigs and the safety of the pork products from those pigs’ offspring.
The Humane Society has produced plenty of counter-evidence against the industry’s claims, but the Biden administration’s brief chooses to ignore it, encouraging the Supreme Court to take the industry’s propaganda as more “plausible.” The Biden brief condemns “California’s attempt to force out-of-state farms to spend significant resources to change their animal-husbandry practices” saying that a state “may not otherwise regulate out-of-state entities by banning products that pose no threat to public health or safety based on philosophical objections to out-of-state production methods or public policies that have no impact in the regulating State.” It repeatedly calls California’s motivation merely “philosophical,” thus trivializing the interest that Californians have in ensuring their meat is cruelty-free. Nowhere in the brief does the Biden administration take seriously California’s motivation in wanting to ensure that it is not complicit in mass torture. Instead, it is simply treated as trying to impose “philosophy” on out-of-state pork producers.
The Supreme Court’s decision on California’s law could have significant implications, well beyond the particular issue of whether California is permitted to ban cruelly-raised meat. A group of U.S. senators including Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren had asked the Biden administration to support California in the case, arguing that if the pork producers prevail, states will be hamstrung in their ability to regulate corporate wrongdoing. Noting that the Trump administration had been supporting the pork producers, the senators pleaded with the administration to change the Department of Justice’s stance, because “if adopted, this ruling could allow large, multi-state corporations to evade numerous state laws that focus on harms to their constituents, including those addressing wildlife trafficking, climate change, renewable energy, stolen property trafficking, and labor abuses.”
But the Biden administration sided with the Trump administration in supporting one of the cruelest and most dishonest industries in the country. This earned it the thanks of the National Pork Producers’ Council, who commended “the Biden administration for taking action to stop ill-considered ballot initiatives like California’s Proposition 12 that undermine vital supply chains, national markets and consumer choice and further inflate food prices.” Yet in the words of the Humane Society, Prop 12 is actually “the most critical farm animal law passed in U.S. history.”
The cruelty of the animal agriculture industry is so extreme that the facts are almost unbearable to contemplate. California, to its credit, has taken a modest step toward improving the status quo. The pork industry is fighting the state to the bitter end. Yet the president of the United States has shamefully taken the wrong side, for no good reason, on an issue that is entirely morally uncomplicated. The animal rights struggle is difficult enough already without the White House putting its weight behind the manipulative and amoral claims of the meat industry.
Hear the story of a major recent legal case involving the theft of piglets from a factory farm on the Current Affairs podcast.