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The Supreme Court’s ruling on Prop 12 is a win against factory farming. But the pigs’ lives will still suck.

Lamenting the US Supreme Court ruling, the chair of the House agriculture subcommittee on livestock, dairy, and poultry, said: 'This decision opens the door to the unthinkable... Today it’s the pig pen, tomorrow it’s the whole barnyard'. For the animals’ sake, we can only hope this will be just such a call to action for advocates across the country.

JUSTIN MARCEAU: The US Supreme Court rarely has occasion to hear an animal law case. Laws having to do with animal treatment are primarily matters of state law, and, historically speaking, precious few of them have threatened industrial animal exploitation to a degree that major federal lawsuits emerged. But California’s Proposition 12, a 2018 ballot measure that was approved by more than 62 percent of voters, sufficiently rankled the US pork industry that it filed a federal lawsuit and, after repeatedly losing, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

Prop 12 bans the sale of pork in California from farms anywhere in the country that confine pregnant pigs in “gestation crates” — cages barely bigger than their bodies — for almost their whole lives. This is standard practice in modern pork production, which meant that California’s requirement that female pigs kept for breeding simply have enough space to lie down, stand up, turn around, and stretch their limbs was regarded as an existential threat by the US pork lobby.

A divided Supreme Court upheld the California law yesterday, in a ruling that holds important implications for judicial power under the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. The case also reflects a vast gulf in US animal law, between those who seek to make the law actually reflect animal well-being and the meat industry officials who usually get to determine what constitutes acceptable animal treatment on factory farms across the country.

In the animal welfare movement, the case has been closely watched and hugely consequential. Had Prop 12 been struck down, as many feared it would, given the Court’s conservative majority, it would have erased years of hard-won progress for animal protection and foreclosed the power of progressive states to regulate products produced under the cruelest factory farm conditions. Now, the US animal movement has the opportunity to further empower ordinary citizens to make decisions about animal treatment democratically, rather than letting corporations decide what counts as animal cruelty…

Prop 12’s advocates have described it as the most significant piece of farm animal protection legislation ever passed in the US, because it prohibits some of the extreme forms of confinement used on millions of intelligent, socially complex animals raised for food every year. The Humane Society of the United States has gone so far as to call it the “strongest law in the world for farm animals.”

The Supreme Court’s validation of Prop 12 is undoubtedly a win for the animal movement, but for the pigs themselves, the improvement is marginal: They’ll still be confined in small spaces inconsistent with their needs as cognitively complex creatures, and they’ll still be repeatedly impregnated, only to have their piglets swiftly taken away and slaughtered. Whether this can be called a meaningful victory for animals depends on one’s perspective on how social change happens…

The question, then, is whether the outcome will embolden animal protection groups to pursue bolder law reform projects. In the past few years, activists from the grassroots animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) have exposed previously little-known horrors of animal agriculture, like the suffering of pigs who are gassed with carbon dioxide at slaughterhouses, or the millions of animals who have been culled via heatstroke using a method the industry calls “ventilation shutdown.” Would it be unthinkable for a state to ban the sale of products from meat producers who use ventilation shutdown? Could we imagine a world in which the idealized notion of the small, humane family farm is legally enforced to some extent by, for example, banning the almost immediate separation of calves from their mothers in the dairy industry, or the common practice of removing animal tails or testicles without anesthesia?..

The legal work it took to defend Prop 12 — fighting not just the industry but the Biden administration, which sided with the pork producers, as well as numerous pro-industry states — is not a complete victory for animals, and it’s not clear that bigger cages inevitably will lead to no cages. But had the case gone the other way, if even a small, incremental reform proved impossible, it would have unleashed a sense of despair across the field of animal law, making it hard to imagine, much less strive for, a future in which animal exploitation is less pervasive.

It is no small thing to consider that what was at stake in this case is as fundamental as whether local laws can, as the Court majority put it, interfere with the meat industry’s “preferred way of doing business.” Because the answer to that question is now a resounding yes, perhaps this decision will provide an overdue inspiration for animal advocates to push the envelope of what is possible in legislative limits on factory farming.

As US Rep. Tracey Mann (R-KS), chair of the House agriculture subcommittee on livestock, dairy, and poultry, said following the ruling, “This decision opens the door to [the] unthinkable. … Today it’s the pig pen, tomorrow it’s the whole barnyard.” For the animals’ sake, we can only hope this will be just such a call to action for advocates across the country. SOURCE…


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