A United States federal court judge for the District of Massachusetts approved an agreement to delay enforcement of a state law that would ban pork production processes that used gestation crates.
Judge Mark Wolf signed the agreement on August 11, 2022, which halted the state law, known as Question 3 (Q3), a 2016 Massachusetts ballot initiative set to go into effect on August 15 of this year. The law was set to ban any uncooked whole pork meat sold in Massachusetts that did not meet specific sow housing requirements, regardless of where it was produced.
“The reaction to these proposed laws hearkens back to the early 1900s and the horrible conditions in meat packing facilities and the mishmash of inconsistent laws from state to state to state,” Shawn K. Stevens, food industry attorney for the Food Industry Counsel and member of the Food Quality and Safety Editorial Advisory Board.
That led to what is now the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which says that individual states are prohibited from enforcing any laws different from or in addition to the federal standards. That has led to the courts being reluctant to enforce laws such as Q3. “The arguments to the court are ‘We can’t have a free market where we can freely ship, sell, distribute, and consume these types of animal products if the individual states are requiring their own specific requirements; it’s just not fair,’” Stevens says.
He also notes that the law, if enacted, wouldn’t allow transshipment of whole pork through the state of Massachusetts, jeopardizing approximately $2 billion worth of pork that moves into neighboring New England states.
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) called the ruling a “significant outcome,” noting the importance of allowing pig farmers to raise hogs in a way that is best for their animals while maintaining a reliable supply of pork for American consumers. “The impact of Question 3 would have been particularly harmful to those in surrounding New England states who did not have a vote in the 2016 Massachusetts referendum, nor any notice of the dramatic steps that activists had taken trying to force these harmful initiatives on voters in other states,” says Terry Wolters, NPPC president.
The Supreme Court is currently listening to a similar law in California’s—Proposition 12—which was approved by voters in 2018 and makes it illegal to sell pork in the state unless the pig it comes from was born to a sow housed with at least 24 square feet of space and in conditions that allow the sow to turn around freely without touching her enclosure.
A lawsuit was brought by NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation against this legislation, arguing that the law is unjustified and counterproductive to advancing animal health and safety and, if enacted, would undermine the global competitiveness of the U.S. pork industry and increase food prices.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy has gone on record stating that the Q3 rule should be put on hold at least until 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling on Proposition 12.
The agreement is limited to the pork sales provision of Q3, so producers in Massachusetts are still required to comply with in-state housing standards for pork production.