MECKES: State veterinarian: a supreme mistake  

In this July 21, 2017, photo, young hogs are seen at Everette Murphrey Farm in Farmville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

As the former North Carolina State Veterinarian, I have a profound interest in the care and well-being of animals raised in our state. That’s why I was so disappointed in a recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court which imposes arbitrary — and potentially harmful — standards on how North Carolina farmers raise pigs. These standards create an environment less favorable to the health and well-being of pigs compared to the conditions under which they are currently raised. 

The May 11 ruling (National Pork Producers Council v Ross) allows the State of California to move forward with Proposition 12, a 2018 ballot initiative put forward by the Humane Society of the United States. Prop 12 requires all pork sold in California to come from female breeding pigs (sows) that are raised in pens with a minimum of 24 square feet of space. 


For some of you, that probably sounds reasonable. Even admirable. 

But there are important factors to consider when it comes to animal well-being. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians, an expert on these issues, concluded that changing the way sows are raised is likely to do more harm than good.  

There are many different types of sow housing. Pig farmers in North Carolina use a combination of group housing and individual gestation stalls when caring for sows. Individual stalls protect each sow from more aggressive animals in the pens and allow each animal to receive personalized care. Group housing or pen gestation allows for greater movement for the sows but also subjects smaller or timid sows to more aggressive animals.  

We’ve all heard stories about “Boss Hog” and those stories are true. In any group of sows, one or two animals are dominant. They bully the smaller sows and get more feed and water.  

That’s why leading veterinary groups oppose California’s new requirements.  

In addition to the potential harm these changes could create for our animals, Prop 12 also poses a threat to North Carolina’s $11 billion pork industry. Adopting new standards will be extremely costly, requiring farmers to retrofit barns or significantly reduce the number of sows they raise. Those increased costs will be passed onto consumers, not just in California but across the country.      

What is the right answer? 

The American Association of Swine Veterinarians says: “The best solution for animal welfare is for each team of farmers and veterinarians to have flexibility to determine the housing arrangements that are best for their animals in their circumstances.”  

I’ll go one step farther and say that each state should have the flexibility to determine what is best for their animals. The court made a supreme mistake in allowing Prop 12 to move forward. It will do nothing to improve the welfare of the animals. On the contrary, it could create a less desirable environment for sows and their piglets while increasing production costs for farmers and pork prices for consumers. 

Douglas Meckes lives in Apex