Federal Judge Rules Part of Massachusetts Pork Law Unconstitutional, Allowing the Rest to Stand Amid Industry Challenge

In a recent development, a U.S. District Judge in Boston, William Young, has determined that a portion of Massachusetts’ law banning the sale of pork from pigs kept in tightly confined spaces is unconstitutional. However, Judge Young ruled that this specific provision can be severed, allowing the remaining components of the legislation to survive a legal challenge initiated by Triumph Foods, a Missouri-based pork producer, and out-of-state pig farmers.

The contested law, known as the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, was enacted through a 2016 ballot initiative, with 77% of voters in favor. It prohibited the sale of pork, veal, and eggs in Massachusetts from animals that did not meet certain minimum space requirements for confinement.

The legal focus centered on a specific provision within the law, targeting the sale of pork meat from breeding pigs subjected to “cruel confinement,” preventing them from essential movements. This provision mirrored a similar measure in California, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in May, dismissing industry challenges.

Both cases hinged on the Constitution’s dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from enacting laws that discriminate against or unduly burden interstate commerce. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Judge Young had previously dismissed parts of Triumph’s case but left a claim alleging discrimination against out-of-state pork processors due to an exemption in the law.

The contested exemption allowed for the sale of non-compliant pork at federally-inspected slaughterhouses in Massachusetts if buyers took possession on-site, rather than at grocery stores. Judge Young ruled that this exemption violated the Commerce Clause, but he also determined that it could be severed without undermining the law’s overall purpose.

Triumph Foods now has the opportunity to reassert a previously-dismissed claim that the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempts the state’s act. The company argues that without the exemption, the state law conflicts with federal inspection regulations, creating additional and conflicting requirements for handling pigs.

Triumph CEO Matt England expressed anticipation in demonstrating how the remaining portion of the law might interfere with federal responsibilities, expressing hope for a resolution to disruptions in the country’s pork supply chain.

A spokesperson for Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell, whose office defended the law, refrained from commenting, citing the ongoing nature of the lawsuit.

The case is Triumph Foods, LLC, et al, v. Campbell, et al, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 23-cv-11671. Legal representation includes Cynthia Cordes of Husch Blackwell for Triumph Foods and attorneys from the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General for the state.