California's Proposition 12 - "City Slickers" Managing American Agriculture
By: Rachael Buzanowski
You know how sometimes a joke is too close to real life? Consider the story of the time a California “city slicker” moved to the middle of Iowa and decides he’s going to take up farming. He heads to the local co-op and tells the man, “Give me a hundred baby chickens.” The co-op man complies. A week later the man returns and says, “Give me two hundred baby chickens.” The co-op man complies. Again, a week later the man returns. This time he says, “Give me five-hundred baby chickens.” “Wow!” The co-op man replies, “You must really be doing well!” “Naw,” said the man with a sigh. “I’m either planting them too deep or too far apart!”
That is what it is like with California’s Proposition 12; only this is a lot of folks in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose who have passed a law that requires farmers in the entire rest of the country to “plant chickens” rather than raise them through widely accepted ag practices. How did this happen? In 2018 the people of California voted in favor of Proposition 12 because they were told that it would “improve animal welfare.” While many Californians believed they were helping animals by voting for this law, they were actually allowing “city slickers” to intervene in widely accepted ag husbandry and care practices. This law allows the State of California to control how much space laying hens, veal calves, and breeding pigs have in confinement operations. However, California is not just trying to regulate spacing in its own state, it is also trying to regulate the spacing of animals and their offspring in other states if eggs, veal, or pork from those states is to be sold in California.
There are two major problems at play in this case. First, Proposition 12 is just one of many moves being made by those with anti-ag agendas. For example, if North Carolina farmers can’t sell pork in California because of the Proposition 12, it will likely drive up the price of pork meaning it will force many people to find alternative sources of protein. While this may mean that they turn to beef or chicken, it could also mean they decrease their consumption of meat in general. And what happens when these same anti-ag folks go after beef or chicken next.
Second, is California’s attempt to regulate agricultural operations in other states. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution allows states to regulate commerce within their own borders but prohibits states from excessively burdening commerce outside their borders. Lawsuits have been filed arguing that California is acting contrary to the Commerce Clause because Proposition 12 applies to how animals are raised outside the State of California. Unfortunately, some Federal Courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, have refused to overturn Proposition 12. The last hope resides with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has yet to announce whether it will take the case, but U.S. Senators like Joni Ernst (R-IA) have encouraged it to do so. If the Supreme Court declines to shut down Proposition 12, there is no telling where over-reaching laws like this one will end. It is veal, pork, and eggs now, but next it could be beef or corn or wheat. This could apply to other products as well, for example a state could try to prevent goods from being marketed in its borders if they contain products derived from something like fracking. Laws like this are extreme and need to be stopped before they wreck what unitedness is left in these 50 states. Knowing how American farmers and ranchers care for their animals and their land, it is obvious that allowing “city slickers” to dictate how we plant our chickens will lead to disaster.