In Defense of Prop 12: Why This Historic Law Is Worth Protecting

veal calf

At the Humane Society of the United States, we believe that the interests of the agriculture industry need not be at odds with the well-being of animals and public health and safety. We’re working hard to persuade the federal government to heed appeals by advocates and lawmakers and support California’s ability to legislate for animal welfare and public health via Proposition 12. 

This historic law, approved overwhelmingly by California voters in 2018, prohibits the cruel confinement of mother pigs, egg-laying hens, and baby calves in California. It also prohibits within the state the sale of pork, eggs, and veal that are products of extreme confinement—typically, cages so small that the animals are virtually immobilized and not able to engage in natural behaviors. 

Rather than choosing to comply with this reasonable measure, some interest groups in the meat industry have filed multiple lawsuits attempting to overturn Proposition 12, including National Pork Producers Council v. Ross, which the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear. If successful, this lawsuit could not only overturn California’s Proposition 12, it could also threaten laws that address climate change and protect animals from other forms of horrific cruelty, such as wildlife trafficking.

The Trump administration supported the pork industry lawsuit by filing an amicus brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of striking down this important law. We believe that filing reflected a misunderstanding of the purpose of Proposition 12, as it relied on the industry’s mischaracterization of the ballot measure. 

The Biden administration has an opportunity to correct this misunderstanding. We are urging the administration to do the right thing for animals and the environment and to support and respect California’s authority and Proposition 12 before the Supreme Court. Over 100 members of Congress are also urging the Biden administration to support Proposition 12. 

A few weeks ago, Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat from Washington state, led a sign-on letter urging the Biden administration to support Proposition 12. In just a short time, her letter garnered signatures from 100 members of the House Democratic caucus spanning 24 states—from Arizona to Kansas to North Carolina—demonstrating that the Proposition 12 case is a matter of broad concern across the country. The signatories included 17 members of the House Judiciary Committee, who joined in this request for a firm federal stance before the U.S. Supreme Court. And last month, Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sent their own letter to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack urging the Biden administration to support Proposition 12.

The pork industry’s challenge has serious implications for all states’ ability to promote animal welfare, protect public health and take action on climate change, among other concerns. Far from being only about pork, the Supreme Court’s decision could dictate how states are able to protect their people and the environment from dangerous practices by large, multistate conglomerates.

We urge the Biden administration to heed the appeal by legislators and citizens alike and support California’s and all states’ ability to legislate for animals, public health, and the environment before it is too late.