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A couple of federal court cases working their way through California's appellate system spell big trouble for Big Meat. 

Most recently the North American Meat Institute was slam dunked sideways by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on its effort to stop California Prop 12 from going into effect.

Proposition 12 creates new regulations on animal housing. The measure demands producers provide more space for veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens. “So what?” you might ask.  Isn't that California well...being California with a history of marching to the beat of their own drummer?  Not this time Ringo. Prop 12 also applies to out of state producers wanting to do business in California.  That's everyone. Far out.

Well you can imagine how the North American Meat Institute and the National Pork Producer's Council felt about that.  The two industry trade groups filed separate lawsuits seeking preliminary injunctions preventing Prop 12 from going into effect (read my blog about the NPPC lawsuit here).

Both lawsuits argue essentially the same point – that Prop 12 violates the federal Commerce Clause because it burdens interstate commerce and shields California producers from out of state competition.

The NAMI lawsuit claims:

“Proposition 12’s sales ban violates the Commerce Clause by erecting a protectionist trade barrier whose purpose and effect are to shield California producers from out-of-state competition...Second, Proposition 12’s sales ban violates the Commerce Clause and the federal structure of the United States Constitution by directly regulating interstate and foreign commerce and extraterritorial conduct, including the confinement conditions of animals located on farms outside of California. California lacks authority to regulate farming practices outside California, and it cannot condition access to its market as a means to control how farm animals are confined in other States and countries.”

Last November District Judge Christina Snyder shredded NAMI arguments in denying a preliminary injunction against Prop 12.

Snyder ruled that costs to comply with Prop 12 cage standards are not discriminatory because they apply equally to animals raised in California as they do to animals raised in any other state. Snyder also ruled Prop 12 created no barrier in selling across state lines because it directs how meat is produced and does not require out-of-state ranchers and packers to move to California.

The NAMI immediately appealed and argued its case before the Ninth Circuit in June.  The appellate court handed down its ruling last month and the decision gives NAMI no wiggle room whatsoever while emphatically rejecting its arguments. The three judge panel ruled that Snyder was correct in applying Association des Eleveurs deCanards et d’Oies du Quebec v. Harris, 729 F.3d 937 (9th Cir. 2013) because that case also treated in-state and out-of-state meat producers equally.

NAMI is now in deep doo-doo.  Yes, the other case filed by the NPPC is still alive and awaiting an appellate court ruling but Big Meat has better odds at filling a royal flush at the river than receiving a favorable decision.  And that leaves Big Meat in the unenviable position of convincing the U-S Supreme Court in taking up its case. Yes, there are some new justices on the court but by and large, the SCOTUS hasn't shown a lot of interest in hearing arguments over state ballot initiatives.  State rights and all that.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dikcey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.