Farm Progress

Attorneys General allege anti-cruelty law is unconstitutional.

Gary Baise 1, Environmental Lawyer/Blogger

December 13, 2017

3 Min Read

Last week it was the State of Missouri suing California over its efforts to regulate the conditions under which hens lay eggs. Twelve states joined Missouri. Yesterday afternoon Indiana’s Attorney General, Curtis Hill, and Attorneys General from Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin challenged Massachusetts’s “…attempt to impose regulatory standards on farmers from every other state by dictating conditions of housing for poultry, hogs, and calves when their products will be offered for sale in Massachusetts.”

Indiana’s Attorney General claims “Massachusetts’s efforts to regulate farming in other states constitute extraterritorial commercial regulation in violation of the [Constitution’s] commerce clause.”

In its 15-page Bill of Complaint filed in the United States Supreme Court the Attorneys General assert  in November, 2016, Massachusetts voters passed an Animal Law protection act by an approximate margin of 78% to 22%. The Massachusetts Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals had as its purpose to prevent farmers in Massachusetts and all farmers from around the United States from selling eggs, veal, or pork that is “…the product of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”  

Cruel confines

The animal law passed by Massachusetts voters defined the term “confined in a cruel manner.” It is defined to mean “Confined so as to prevent a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs or turning around freely.” Fully extending was also defined as meaning “fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure.”

The Massachusetts law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. However, Indiana and the other Attorneys General complain to the Supreme Court that farmers must begin now to plan for compliance.

Indiana’s Attorney General asserts there are 3,000 pork producers in Indiana and that its own Purdue University is a market player and even it will be harmed by the Massachusetts Animal Rights law. The complaint alleges Purdue University owns and operates farms and the confined animals in those farms would not currently comply with the new Massachusetts law.  

Purdue University markets hogs to Tyson’s Foods and other packers who sell their products throughout the United States and in Massachusetts.

Contentious zoning approval

Indiana and the Plaintiff states will have to decrease their flock and herd size and undertake contentious zoning approval processes to comply with the Massachusetts law, or “…forgo completely any sales in Massachusetts or to national distributors that may resell products in Massachusetts.”

The complaint also alleges Massachusetts law will increase the retail prices of products such as eggs and pork. Furthermore, the complaint alleges Indiana farmers will experience production costs increases and subsequent decreases of flocks and herd sizes to meet infrastructure requirements imposed by the Massachusetts law. It declares succinctly that Massachusetts’s Animal Law “…will financially affect a significant portion of the Plaintiff States’ residents, including farmers, farm employees, and consumers.” 

Indiana and the Plaintiff States want the Supreme Court to decide that Massachusetts’ Animal Law “…is unconstitutional in violation of the Commerce Clause to the United States Constitution on the basis that it imposes an impermissible extraterritorial regulation of commercial activity occurring wholly in another state.”

The Attorneys General brief attaches several factual declarations which you will find fascinating to read. Jason Lusk, Purdue University, files a declaration supporting the Attorneys General brief pointing out that when California passed its egg production law, California’s hen population “…was reduced by an average of 4.4 million birds each month relative to what would have been observed in the absence of the [California] AW Laws.”

Lusk also confirms that state efforts to regulate agriculture causes price increases for the consumer. In California, for example, its animal welfare law caused the average price of a dozen eggs to rise about 22%. The legal battle has just begun!  We all need to thank Protect The Harvest and the state Attorneys General for defending agriculture.

About the Author(s)

Gary Baise 1

Environmental Lawyer/Blogger

Gary H. Baise is an Illinois farmer and trial attorney at the law firm Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz PC specializing in agricultural and environmental trial issues in state and federal courts. He also serves as outside General Counsel for the U.S. Grains Council, Agricultural Retailers Association, National Sorghum Producers and counsel to the American Soybean Association.


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