How to Comply with California's Prop 12

The state’s 2018 law provides human housing for three kinds of animals

By Andrew Brandt | Last updated on August 4, 2022

In 2018, California passed Proposition 12, which, according to Bruce A. Wagman, an animal law attorney at Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila in San Francisco, “provides for humane housing of three kinds of farm animals: veal calves, gestating pigs, and egg-laying hens.”

The proposition, which received 63 percent “yes” votes from California voters, establishes minimum confinement requirements for those three animals, and bans sales of meat and eggs from animals kept in conditions that don’t meet those standards—regardless of what state the products come from—in California stores.

“So you can’t sell a product in California from a veal calf that wasn’t treated the way California requires its veal calves to be treated,” says Wagman, who notes that egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs and veal calves are normally confined in ways in which they cannot move. “The definition of the required behavior is that they’re required to be able to stand up, lay down, turn around, and stretch their limbs without touching the sides of an enclosure or another animal. And, further with respect to egg-laying hens, Prop 12 envisions, ultimately, cage-free housing.”

In 2008, Californians passed a similar proposition, but it didn’t include the cage-free housing caveat, and also didn’t ban sales of products that didn’t meet the standards. “In other words, producers could still do what they wanted in their states and send veal and pork to California. Now, they can’t.

“When the law was written, the idea was to focus on some of the most, one could say, egregious, problematic types of practices in industrialized agricultural farming,” he continues. “The idea is not to make the world vegan, but to give the animals we eat somewhat more a modicum of a better life while they are on the planet.”

Though enforcement of such a law may seem a difficult task for The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the department was already enforcing Prop 2. Now, they simply intend to send agents to other states that are shipping food products to California (like Missouri, Iowa, Massachusetts), to ensure they are complying with the updated requirements.

After Proposition 2 passed a decade ago, the egg industry ultimately attempted five lawsuits. And so, unsurprisingly to Wagman, the North American Meat Institute has now sued the state, claiming the new law is unconstitutional. Hearings are to take place in late 2019. “The fact is that we [previously] won every single time,” Wagman says. “The North American Meat Institute—they’re not bad lawyers, and so they’ve read everything, how the egg industry has lost five times. And they’re trying to work around that.”

Federal law governs food labeling, so California won’t have any labeling for products that meet requirements—though, of course, the products would be illegal if they don’t. The state is also allowing a phase-in period regarding the enacted changes, so the industry has what Wagman calls “a significant amount of time to change their practices and get up to speed.” If your company is trying to meet those requirements, or you know of one who isn’t currently complying, reach out to an experienced Northern California animal law attorney.

For Wagman, the proposition is simply a step forward. “We’ve been moving forward in an effort to provide a modicum of better treatment for these animals who have been subjected to intensive confinement that causes amazing suffering,” he says. “It’s something we hope will move around the country.”

For more information on animal welfare, space requirements, California’s Proposition 12, animal protection, ballot initiatives, the pork industry, and the USDA, see our overview of animal law.

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