California court delays enforcement of part of pig welfare law

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REUTERS/Daniel Acker

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CHICAGO, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A California court said it will delay enforcement of part of a law aimed at ensuring more humane treatment of farm animals, which opponents warned could lead to pork shortages and higher food prices in the most populous U.S. state.

Supporters of Proposition 12, approved by California voters in November 2018, say it will make food production more humane by setting minimum space requirements for breeding pigs, egg-laying hens and calves raised for veal.

The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, also forbids the sale of pork, eggs or raw veal from animals enclosed in too little space. Breeding sows are often kept in crates that do not allow them to turn around or stand up.

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Judge James Arguelles of California Superior Court in Sacramento County ruled on Monday, however, that grocers, restaurants and retailers would not be subject to enforcement of the new restrictions on whole pork meat sales until six months after the state enacts final regulations.

The California Grocers Association applauded the ruling on Tuesday. Along with other business groups, the association had sued the state seeking to delay enforcement until 28 months after regulations are finalized.

"The state has not been able to provide necessary guidance for compliance," said Ron Fong, association president.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said on Tuesday it and the attorney general's office are evaluating the ruling. Pork producers and suppliers remain subject to enforcement if they violate square-footage requirements that went into effect on Jan. 1, the department said.

"It's a little bit of a hollow victory for the grocers because they get their product from suppliers and those suppliers have to comply with Prop 12," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the animal-welfare group Animal Wellness Action.

Opponents of Proposition 12 in the U.S. meat industry have argued that enforcement would hurt producers and consumers, and violate the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause by requiring out-of-state producers to comply or face the sales ban.

California represents about 15% of the U.S. pork market, and about 87% of pork sold in California comes from pigs raised outside the state, industry officials said.

Last month, Seaboard Foods (SEB.A), the nation's second-biggest pig producer, said it would limit sales of whole pork products in California because of Proposition 12. read more

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Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Sandra Maler

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