Raising the specter of breakfasts without bacon and festival sausage stands without sausage across much of New England, trade groups representing restaurant owners across all of New England save Connecticut and the National Pork Producers Council yesterday sued the state over regulations, set to go into effect in less than two weeks, that would require pork sold, or even trans-shipped through, Massachusetts to come only from what the state considers humanely raised pigs.
Part of the problem, the trade groups say, is that even though the regulations are based on a 2016 referendum approved by voters, specific pig regulations kept getting delayed until the legislature voted last December to let the state Department of Agriculture set rules barring pork from any sow "prevented from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely" and the final rules weren't published to give pig farmers enough time to comply, even if they wanted to.
But in their suit, filed yesterday in US District Court in Boston, the groups also say the law is unconstitutional because it applies even to pigs raised outside of Massachusetts - and to pork products shipped to warehouses here for distribution to most of the rest of New England, and that's a squealing big violation of the commerce clause prohibition on states interfering in interstate commerce:
Massachusetts has provided no notice to businesses and consumers in New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont who could wake up in a matter of weeks to discover that the bacon they enjoy at breakfast has been taken off the market by Massachusetts voters and regulators.
The suit notes that the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a similar case against a similar law in California, which, like Massachusetts, imports most of its pork from other states, with arguments in that case set for Oct. 11.
"Massachusetts has no pork industry to speak of," unless you include a small number of "artisanal" farmers who sell their wares directly to consumers, the groups say, adding that the Midwestern and North Carolina farms that raise most of the pigs from which we get our pork know better than Massachusetts consumers that "the smaller individual pens" in which sows are kept are actually better for the animals' health and welfare, in part because it keeps them from getting into wound-causing fights due to "aggression" and because the individualized little pens make it easier for pregnant pigs to be fed and cared for.
Also, complying with the Massachusetts rules would proved expensive and:
Even if a farm did renovate in an effort to comply with the Pork Rules, the complex pork supply chain is unequipped to differentiate between compliant and non-compliant hogs alive today.
And that's all before millions of pigs are transported to slaughterhouses, each of which takes in pigs from hundreds of farms across thousands of acres and which then sends all those pigs down a single killing line.
Very few pork slaughter facilities in the United States have more than one production line, so pigs from all over a region end up funneled through that one line, becoming indistinguishable.
After the pork is processed, it is packaged, labelled, and stored at the processing facility, and then shipped to one or more distributor.
There could be many different distributors, wholesalers, resellers, or others who trade these commodity products and take possession and control of any one cut of pork during its journey from the plant to the dinner plate. ...
Accordingly, compliance with the Pork Rules is not merely a matter of changing the size of the pens, it is the far more complex task of taking a supply chain developed to create and deliver a consistent commodity and reconfiguring it to differentiate Massachusetts meat at each step of way.
The lawsuit says California has yet to figure it all out and so its law is not yet actually in effect.
The groups are asking a judge for a temporary injunction to keep the Massachusetts rules from going into effect on Aug. 15 and then a more permanent ban after that.