The California Department of Food and Agriculture cannot enforce the state’s animal housing law for pork products on certain parties until six months after it issues final regulations, a state court judge has ruled.

In a ruling released Tuesday, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Arguelles said the text of a 2018 ballot initiative shows that voters wanted CDFA and the California Department of Public Health to write regulations before beginning to enforce the law, which went into effect Jan. 1 despite the lack of written rules. The state had argued that it could begin enforcing the law.

The judge’s decision specifically prohibits enforcement against any members of the plaintiff groups, as well as any of their owners and operators. Suing were the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the California Grocers Association, California Retailers Association, California Restaurant Association and Kruse & Son.

The CDFA and the state Attorney General’s office "are evaluating the ruling in order to determine specific next steps," according to a statement from CDFA.

"It should be noted that the judge’s ruling is a narrow one that applies only to retailers, including grocers, and not to pork producers providing pork products to California," CDFA's statement continued. "Pork producers and suppliers remain subject to enforcement if they violate the square-footage requirement that went into effect on January 1."

CDFA said it is "moving as quickly as possible" to complete regulations "while ensuring full consideration is given to extensive comments submitted by stakeholders during a recent public comment period. In the meantime, CDFA continues with extensive outreach and education efforts to support compliance by pork producers. More information on next steps can be found here."   

And the Humane Society of the U.S. said the order does not alter the law. "It simply and very temporarily halts the enforcement of one of the law’s provisions (the square footage provision). To be clear, this ruling does NOT delay or affect in any way the ban on gestation crate pork sold in California."

The North American Meat Institute praised the decision, noting that California is more than two years past the law’s September 2019 deadline for issuing regulations.

“Judge Arguelles’ decision recognizes the complexity of the pork supply chain and the burdensome and costly provisions of Prop 12,” NAMI President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said. “To enforce the law without final regulations leaves the industry unsure of how to comply or what significant changes must be made to provide pork to this critical market.”

The law sets square footage requirements for breeding sows anywhere in the U.S. that produce pork sold in California. The meat industry has criticized the law and mounted multiple legal challenges, including a petition seeking review of the matter by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Relying on the plaintiffs’ declarations, the judge said “there is currently no system in place that traces pork sold in California to a particular pig raised outside the state. Breeding pigs originating out of state are frequently raised on more than one farm, and they and their offspring change hands additional times before arriving as whole pork meat ready for sale in California.”

The plaintiffs argued that “suppliers cannot furnish reliable assurances that their pork products derive from pigs confined with at least 24 square feet per pig,” Arguelles said.

The judge also prohibited the filing of civil suits against the plaintiffs and their members and owners to enforce Prop 12 until six months after rules are issued.

“As a private family-owned California processor, I was forced to ask the court for relief in delaying California’s Proposition 12 because it became clear our supply of pork would be interrupted in 2022," Kruse & Son CEO Steve Kruse said. "I am grateful the court has stayed the implementation of Prop 12 until the state issues final regulations and begins implementing the nationwide certification system companies like mine will need to rely on once Prop 12 goes into effect."

"Without appropriate time for the supply chain to comply, the state will be leaving hard-working California consumers potentially vulnerable to acute shortages this year,” Kruse said.

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This story was updated to add a comment from the Humane Society of the U.S.