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High court upholds law giving swine more room on farms. What does it mean for Modesto area?

California’s quest to give swine more space on farms has won support from the U.S. Supreme Court.

It ruled 5-4 on Thursday against pork producers across the nation who argued that state Proposition 12 violated the interstate commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution.

The measure approved by voters in 2018 required that stalls and other housing allow livestock enough room to stand up, turn around and extend their limbs. It applies not just in California but in any place that produces pork, veal, eggs and other products for sale in the state.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion, with support from a mix of liberal and conservative colleagues on the bench.

“While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list,” Gorsuch wrote.

The appeal had come from the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation. They sued in 2019 on the grounds that California could not tell other states how to produce pork.

The industry estimated that converting farms to the standards would raise production costs by 9%. And they said current housing practices help prevent injuries to the animals and contamination of the meat.

The suit was rejected by district and appellate courts, but the Supreme Court agreed to take it on. It heard arguments in October from both sides.

“We are very disappointed with the Supreme Court’s opinion,” NPPC President Scott Hays of Missouri said in a news release Thursday. “Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation.”

Gorsuch said the interstate commerce law was meant to keep one state from gaining an advantage over others, but Proposition 12 applied to California producers as well.

He also noted that nearly a quarter of the U.S. pork industry has already shifted to the larger housing.

Pork is a tiny part of California’s farm industry, but the state’s residents do eat plenty of products raised elsewhere.

The state’s egg producers are well into the conversion to roomier quarters first mandated by voters in 2008. They include J.S. West & Cos. of Modesto and Gemperle Family Farms, south of Turlock.

Chicken egg farms in Stanislaus County had $36.2 million in gross income in 2021, its agricultural commissioner reported.

Swine brought $3.11 million. Meat from cattle, chickens and turkeys was a far larger part of the total farm income of $3.55 billion.

Gorsuch got support from Justices Clarence Thomas, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett. Dissents came from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

The ruling brought praise from Animal Outlook, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

“No matter how cruel or painful a practice is, the animal agriculture industry has fought against laws to prohibit it, in this case, all the way to the Supreme Court,” Executive Director Cheryl Leahy said in a news release.

“When a powerful industry will stop at nothing to make complicity in cruelty mandatory, it’s a clear sign that the cruelty is part and parcel of that industry, and the only way to refuse to be a part of it is to not eat animals altogether.”