February 29, 2024

Interpretive Summary: Judge rules in favor of pork producers in Question 3

Judge rules in favor of pork producers in Question 3 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

A group of pork producers have filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts against the Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals (Question 3). Passed by voters in November 2016, Question 3 imposes confinement requirements on out-of-state pork producers and prohibits the sale of pork meat within the state from offspring of an animal confined in a manner inconsistent with Massachusetts' requirements, regardless of where in the nation the animal was raised. The judge agreed, ruling that the Question 3 exemption discriminates against out-of-state pork producers and violates the dormant Commerce Clause. 

The Massachusetts law "prohibits any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely." Exceptions to this confinement rule include temporary holding cells for transportation, fairs, medical research, veterinary exams, and other purposes.

Judge William Young ruled that a portion of the law was unconstitutional and in violation of a federal commerce clause. In the ruling, Young said the exception had a “discriminatory effect” on out-of-state processors, who would have to pay higher costs to sell their pork into Massachusetts compared to peers within the commonwealth. The judge ordered for the law’s “slaughterhouse exception,” which allows certain processors to directly sell non-compliant pork to consumers, to be severed. The rest of the legislation has survived the legal challenge by the pork industry for now. Young also ruled that the commonwealth’s exception fails to prevent the sale of non-compliant pork within Massachusetts.

“Although the slaughterhouse exception violates the dormant Commerce Clause, it does not render the entire Act unconstitutional; instead, the provision may be severed from the rest of the Act,” Young wrote in his decision.

The lawsuit includes Triumph Foods, Christensen Farms Midwest LLC, The Hanor Co. of Wisconsin LLC, New Fashion Pork LLP, Eichelberger Farms Inc., and Allied Producers’ Cooperative, which is a collective of smaller Midwest farmers. The lawsuit also expresses support for similar litigation initiated by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).

“We are thrilled on the progress this ruling has brought for the industry, but it is more meaningful than just pigs and pork chops,” said Matt England, President and chief executive officer of Triumph Foods. “The USDA has consistently ensured that Americans have access to the safest food products in the world, and this process should not be infringed by individual state laws, as food offerings should be driven by consumer choices. We look forward to demonstrating how the remaining portion of the law intrudes into the federal government’s role and are hopeful the disruption to the country’s supply chain soon comes to an end.”

Read the Judge’s decision here