A meat industry organization has failed to convince a federal appeals court that a preliminary injunction is warranted against California’s restrictions on livestock confinement.
The lawsuit is focused on pork and veal rules in California that affect out-of-state meat producers, but business groups fear it could set a broader legal precedent affecting agriculture and other industries.
In 2018, California voters passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the sale of veal and pork produced from animals that were prevented from moving around freely, adding to existing restrictions on the confinement of egg-producing chickens.
The new restriction applied to sales of all veal and pork products in California, including meat produced in other states, which spurred a federal complaint from the North American Meat Institute, which represents processors.
A federal judge in California refused to issue a preliminary injunction against the law’s enforcement last year, which NAMI challenged before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
NAMI argues that California’s regulation unconstitutionally restricts interstate commerce, but the 9th Circuit has found that U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder did not abuse her discretion in deciding these claims were “unlikely to succeed on the merits.”
The 9th Circuit said it’s plausible that California’s statute “does not have a discriminatory effect because it treats in-state meat producers the same as out-of-state meat producers.”
Likewise, the law prohibits the sale of meat “produced by a specific method, rather than imposing a burden on producers based on their geographical origin,” the appellate ruling said. The statute is not an impermissible “price control” and does not violate the industry’s “uniform system of regulation.”
While the 9th Circuit’s order has upheld the denial of a preliminary injunction, the underlying lawsuit over California’s statute remains active.
Earlier this year, the judge refused a motion filed by California and animal rights organizations to dismiss the lawsuit.
Snyder, the district judge, ruled that NAMI has alleged sufficient facts to continue with its claims that California’s statute has a discriminatory purpose and burdens interstate commerce.
She did dismiss the organization’s claim that the statute unlawfully regulates conduct wholly outside California but will allow NAMI to refile that argument if it’s supported with sufficient facts.
The case has drawn interest from several animal rights groups, which have intervened as defendants to support the law, as well as 11 state governments and several business groups that argue the statute should be struck down.
According to the Food Marketing Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, allowing California’s law to be enforced would “green-light” similar regulatory efforts nationwide.
“If California can assert legal control over out-of-state meat production to benefit in-state producers, then North Carolina can do the same when it comes to Washington’s apple production, and New York can regulate Vermont’s milk production,” the groups claim. “And that protectionist impulse is not limited to food. States could rely on a similar theory to regulate supply chains in virtually any industry.”