Meat industry cannot block California animal protection law: U.S. judge

FILE PHOTO: Cage free hens are seen at an egg farm in San Diego County July 29, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Los Angeles refused to stop California from enforcing a voter-approved measure requiring farmers to provide more space for animals being raised for food.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder ruled on Friday that the North American Meat Institute, whose members include processors such as Tyson Foods and retailers including Walmart, did not deserve a preliminary injunction against enforcing the measure known as Proposition 12.

Approved last November, the measure set minimum space requirements for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens, and forbade the sale of raw veal, pork or eggs from animals enclosed in too little space.

The Meat Institute had argued that enforcement would hurt producers and consumers by increasing food costs, and violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause by requiring out-of-state producers to comply or face the sales ban.

Snyder, however, said the measure “applies evenly no matter where production takes place” and found “no serious argument” that it substantially burdened interstate commerce, even if it denied the trade group a “preferred, more profitable method of operating in a retail market.”

Sarah Little, a spokeswoman for the Meat Institute, on Monday said the group was disappointed with the decision and may appeal. The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 4.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, whose office defended the measure, called Snyder’s decision “a victory for ensuring that the food we consumes comes from animals who are cared for as humanely as possible under the law.”

The Meat Institute’s more than 700 members include packers and processors such as Cargill, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods and Wegmans, as well as Chipotle, Target and’s Whole Foods.

The case is North American Meat Institute v. Becerra et al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 19-08569.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman