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Iowa joins pork producers’ court challenge of Massachusetts law

Posted at 3:14 PM, Oct 11, 2023

Iowa is challenging a new Massachusetts law that bans the sale of pork that doesn’t meet strict hog-confinement requirements.

In July, a coalition of pork producers including Triumph Foods sued the Massachusetts attorney general over the state’s newly enacted Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which restricts the sale and transportation of pork in that state by requiring hogs to be raised under certain conditions.

Massachusetts’ law is similar to one in California that restricts the sale of pork in that state. But the Massachusetts law goes a step further by also prohibiting the shipment of non-compliant pork through the state. That provision of the law means that if Iowa-produced pork doesn’t meet Massachusetts’ standards for hog confinements, it not only can’t be sold in Massachusetts, it can’t be transported through Massachusetts to other states.

The stated purpose of the law is to “prevent animal cruelty by phasing out extreme methods of farm-animal confinement, which also threaten the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers, increase the risk of foodborne illness, and have negative fiscal impacts on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

The law was approved overwhelmingly by Massachusetts residents on a ballot initiative that garnered the support of 77% of voters.

Triumph Foods and the other pork producers argue the new law’s minimum size requirements for hog confinements are “inconsistent with pork industry practices and standards,” which is a point on which they and animal-welfare advocates agree. But the producers go on to argue that meeting Massachusetts’ new standards will impose “costly mandates” and “substantial burdens on pig farmers and pork processors” that are located in other states.

On Tuesday, the office of Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird filed an unusually phrased amicus brief siding with the pork producers, arguing “the increased costs on pig farmers and pork processors will make American consumers squeal about higher pork prices.”

The brief notes that Iowa is the nation’s top producer and exporter of pork. “The pork industry employs more than 147,000 Iowans and contributes billions of dollars annually to Iowa’s economy,” the brief states. Massachusetts, Iowa points out, consumes 396 million pounds of pork annually but produces only 1.9 million pounds of pork.

In a written statement announcing the filing of the amicus brief, Bird said the Massachusetts law “sets a dangerous precedent” that will allow states to upend markets across the nation based on what she calls their “political” agendas.

“Massachusetts’s radical pork ban hogties Iowa pork producers,” Bird said. “With these strict new mandates in effect, Iowa farmers will face extreme costs and regulations to compete in the industry, forcing many family hog farms to close shop. Massachusetts doesn’t get to dictate how Iowans farm. We are fighting to support our pork producers and protect Iowa family farms.”

Twelve other states have joined Iowa in the filing of the amicus brief alleging the Massachusetts law violates the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, which gives the federal government, not state governments, the power to regulate interstate commerce. Iowa also claims the law violates the Constitution’s import-export clause, which prohibits states from imposing import taxes on products brought in from other states, and the full faith and credit clause that requires states to respect laws passed in other states.

Lawyers for the state of Massachusetts argue that some of those legal theories and arguments have already been rejected by one or more courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, in lawsuits involving the California law.

Earlier this year, for example, in the National Pork Producers Council’s lawsuit alleging the California law violated the commerce clause, the Supreme Court stated it was declining to “prevent a state from regulating the sale of an ordinary consumer good within its own borders on nondiscriminatory terms.”

In the separate case involving the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s challenge of the California law, a district court judge denied the association’s motion for an injunction and then dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. That decision has been appealed.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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