WASHINGTON – The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) lost its bid to halt implementation of California’s Proposition 12, a law that establishes minimum requirements for confinement of laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves.

In a ruling issued on Nov. 22, Judge Christina Snyder denied NAMI’s request for a preliminary injunction against Proposition 12 which was enacted by California voters in 2018.

“We respect but are disappointed in the court’s decision,” said Sarah Little, vice president of Communications at NAMI. “We will review the ruling and consider our options, which include an appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.”

Under the law, producers of veal calves will be required to house animals with at least 43 sq. ft. of usable floor space per calf by 2020. Beginning in 2022, sows will need a minimum of 24 sq. ft. of usable space per animal and laying hens will be cage-free. Proposition 12 builds on Proposition 2 — approved by voters in 2008 — which mandates cages for egg-laying hens must be large enough for the birds to stand up, lie down and extend their wings. Meat, poultry and eggs not produced under these standards cannot be sold in California.

While acknowledging that complying with Proposition 12 could impose a significant cost upon some NAMI members, Snyder ruled that the law did not have a discriminatory purpose.

In her opinion, Snyder said the in-state sales prohibition in Proposition 12 applies equally to animals raised and slaughtered in California as they do to animals raised and slaughtered in any other state. So, for example, costs to comply with the law aren’t discriminatory. “...the cost of retrofitting their facilities to comply with Proposition 12 may be a burden — and an understandably expensive one — but it is an equal-opportunity burden and not a protectionist measure burdening only the operators of foreign facilities,” Snyder wrote.

Snyder also ruled Proposition 12 imposes no barrier to conducting commerce across state lines. Rather, the law is directed at how meat products are produced. The law does not require ranchers, packers or processors to move their facilities to California.

NAMI has challenged Proposition 12 in federal court asserting constitutional violations. If implemented, Prop 12 would force its members to spend tens of millions of dollars to reconfigure production processes — and in some cases dismantling and building new facilities — to comply with the law; reduce production to meet the law's square footage requirements and forfeit revenue; leave the California market (and forfeit revenue); or risk criminal penalties.

California lawmakers have yet to issue regulations implementing Proposition 12 despite the statutory deadline to do so by Sept. 1, 2019.