By the Thinnest of Margins, State-Based Animal Welfare Requirements Move Forward

May 22, 2023By Ricardo Carvajal

In a dense, multi-part opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed 5-4 the lower courts’ dismissal of a challenge to California’s Proposition 12. That law bans the knowing sale of eggs, uncooked pork, or veal derived from farm animals that are housed under conditions that do not meet certain minimum requirements – regardless of whether the animals are raised in California or out-of-state. Our colleagues at SCOTUSblog have penned a helpful analysis that examines the basis for the Court’s opinion, as well as its multiple parts and concurring opinions. Our focus is on the decision’s practical impact, which could be felt almost immediately.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) issued regulations implementing Proposition 12 on September 1, 2022, but their implementation was enjoined until July 1, 2023, pending the Supreme Court’s decision. With that out of the way, implementation of CDFA’s regulations can be expected to go forward, barring any further judicial or legislative intervention. CDFA has established a web page with multiple resources for producers and distributors, including links to the regulations and guidance documents.

California is not the only state to have established animal welfare requirements affected by the Supreme Court’s decision. Voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot initiative (Question 3) in 2016 that imposed requirements similar to those imposed under Proposition 12. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) subsequently issued implementing regulations that were partly enjoined pending the Supreme Court’s decision. Those regulations are now expected to take effect on June 10, 2023, barring any further judicial or legislative intervention.

Given consumer interest in farm animal welfare generally, it seems certain that additional states will seek to establish their own requirements similar to those in California and Massachusetts. To the extent that those requirements differ from one another, pressure may build for federal legislation to establish uniform national standards.