SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Enforcement of Proposition 12, California’s animal confinement law, should be delayed until the state enacts final regulations, a Sacramento County Superior Court judge recently ruled. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is more than two years late finalizing regulations.

The ruling delays enforcement of Prop 12 until 180 days after the final rules go into effect. Petitioners in the case had asked for a 28-month delay.

Judge James P. Arguelles said “…  although the court agrees that Petitioners are entitled to a delay that extends past the date on which regulations are enacted, it disagrees that 28 months are required. The court must be mindful of the Act’s concern about cruel confinements, and the enforcement delay must not exceed a period that is necessary.

“The court’s writ will remain in effect until 180 days after final regulations go into effect,” Arguelles said. “After final regulations are enacted, the parties may return to this court for any appropriate adjustment to the date.”

The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) applauded the judge’s decision to delay Prop 12 enforcement.

“Judge Arguelles’ decision recognizes the complexity of the pork supply chain and the burdensome and costly provisions of Prop 12,” said Julie Anna Potts, president and chief executive officer of NAMI. “To enforce the law without final regulations leaves the industry unsure of how to comply or what significant changes must be made to provide pork to this critical market.”

The ruling also prohibits the state from penalizing the petitioners for failing to comply with the law.

“Accordingly, the judgment will include a declaration that Petitioners, their members, and their members’ owners and operators are not subject to enforcement of the prohibition on sales of whole pork meat…until 180 days after final regulations are enacted...,” according to court documents.

California voters passed Prop 12 in 2018 and the law was scheduled to go into force with a minimum space requirement for veal calves followed by space requirements for sows in 2022. However, lawmakers are far behind in rulemaking – California was supposed to have final regulations in place by September 2019.

NAMI, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) challenged the law in federal court going all the way to the US Supreme Court. In June 2021, the high court declined without comment to hear NAMI’s case. NPPC and AFBF petitioned the Supreme Court in September of 2021, and a response from the court is pending.

AFBF President Zippy Duvall also expressed support for the Superior Court ruling, saying, “Today’s ruling is another example of inherent flaws in Proposition 12. Besides putting unfair pressure on retailers, it takes away farmers’ flexibility to ensure hogs are raised in a safe environment.

“Small farms across the country will be forced to make expensive and unnecessary changes to their operations, which will lead to more consolidation and higher food prices for all of America’s families,” Duvall said. “It’s imperative that the Supreme Court address the constitutionality of Proposition 12. The laws of one state should not set the rules for an entire nation.”

Pork processors also got a reprieve from Massachusetts which has an animal confinement law that is similar to California’s Prop 12. Massachusetts Lawmakers on Dec. 22, 2021, approved a bill to delay enforcement of the new regulations until Aug. 15, 2022, and Governor Charlie Baker signed it into law. The voter-approved Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals, also known as Question 3, was set to go into effect Jan. 1.

CDFA announced modifications to Prop 12 in December. NAMI said some of the changes recognized the complexity of the pork supply chain but didn’t go far enough.

Meanwhile, Hormel Foods Corp. and Seaboard Foods publicly stated the companies’ intent to comply with the confinement law.