by Marion Nestle
May 18 2023

The Supreme Court weighs in on animal rights

To the surprise of everyone as far as I can tell, the Supreme Court has upheld California’s ban on pork from states that allow pork producers to confine pregnant sows in gestation crates.

California, which consumes 13% of U.S. pork but imports 99% of it, said it would only permit import of pork from producers who give pregnant sows at least 24 square feet of space.

Gestation crates confine pregnant sows so tightly that all they can do is stand up and lie down.

I would not call myself an animal rights advocate, but having been pregnant myself a couple of times, I found myself deeply upset when I saw sows confined like that.

At the time, I was on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.

We asked why they were doing this.  Answer: To keep the sow from crushing her piglets—and to make it easier to feed and clean the animals.

Fortunately, Bill Niman was also on the commission and whisked us off to one of the Niman Ranch farms where we could see sows, each in her own hoop tent, happily tending to piglets and rolling in mud when she felt like it.

Did the sows crush their piglets?  Not when they had ample room to move around ard were not stressed.  Yes, they didn’t produce quite as many piglets, but the meat tasted a lot better.

So I’m happy to see the pig crates disappear, which they will have to if anyone wants to sell pork in California.

This case is not really about animal rights though.  It is about states’ rights to make laws like this one.

The pork producers challenged California’s law.  But Justice Neil Gorsuch writing for the majority said:

California voters overwhelmingly endorsed the “ethical pork” law in 2018 and have the right to decide what products appear on store shelves…Companies that choose to sell products in various States must normally comply with the laws of those various States, “While the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list.”

It’s amazing to have something good come out of this court.  Maybe pig crates will set a precedent.