Hog Producers Seek a Supreme Court Hearing ... and Other Legal News You May Have Missed

By Richard Dahl on January 11, 2022

If there's anything that Iowa is known for, it's hogs.

Last year, Iowa's hog inventory was nearly three times that of second-place Minnesota, and the state produced about 30% of the nation's pork.

Therefore, Iowa has significant influence when it comes to any food policy involving pork. So when California recently enacted a new law that may make pork products prohibitively expensive there, Iowa politicians responded by strongly supporting a legal challenge that may soon make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Californians consume 13% of the pork products eaten in the U.S. but raise only 0.1% of the nation's hogs. Nevertheless, California's Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act dictates that meat producers outside the state's borders must comply with its requirements to do business in California.

These requirements specify that animals must have adequate room to move around, and hog producers contend that the cost of enlarging the pens will require raising the price of the meat. To date, only 4% of the nation's hog operations comply with the rules, and Californians are sounding the alarm that beloved bacon might become unavailable.

The National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation filed a lawsuit to block the policy, but last summer the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected their claim that the California law violates the U.S. Commerce Clause by creating an economic burden on out-of-state producers. The plaintiffs appealed, and on Jan. 14 the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case.

Iowa's junior U.S. senator, Republican Joni Ernst, has been particularly vocal in urging the justices to hear the case "and stand up for our hardworking farmers."

However, as the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times concluded in a Jan. 5 op-ed piece, the Ninth Circuit and other courts have found that the hog producers' contention is without merit. Those courts concluded that the California law can stand because it applies to all hog farms that want to do business in the state. It doesn't establish one rule for California and one for other states.

"Instead of spending their money on legal fees to fight the law, pork producers should have been spending it on revamping their hog farms to comply with the law," the Times wrote. "Some producers have already done so or are in the process."

Paying a Price for Paying in Pennies

When the owner of a Georgia auto-repair shop paid a former employee's final week's wages with a huge pile of oil-soaked pennies last year, the image went viral on Instagram amid shared stories of mean bosses.

On Jan. 5, the owner of that shop learned that he may suffer more than just bad PR. The U.S. Labor Department filed suit against the man, Miles Walker, contending that he illegally retaliated against the former employee and owes $36,971 in back wages.

The employee, Andreas Flaten, quit his job in late 2019 over alleged resistance by Walker to Flaten's needs to pick up a child from day care. He never collected his final week's wages, $915, leading him to file a complaint with the Labor Department. The agency contacted the shop several times, and on March 12 a man believed to be an employee of the shop dumped 91,500 foul-smelling, oil-soaked pennies on Flaten's driveway along with a paycheck copy with an expletive written on it.

Flaten says it took several hours to haul the pennies into his garage with a wheelbarrow before the weight of the coins caused the tires to collapse. Coinstar came to the garage, counted and cleaned the pennies, and gave him $915 in paper currency.

In addition to harassment, the Labor Department claims that Walker owes $36,791 in back wages and damages to eight employees for not paying overtime or keeping proper records.

Judge: Gruyere Cheese Is Generic

True Champagne can only be produced in one region of France, and single-malt Scotch whisky can only be made in Scotland.

But in a decision made public in early January, a U.S. judge ruled that cheese — in this case, Gruyere cheese — is a different matter. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis wrote that Gruyere cheese, which has been made to exacting standards for about 1,000 years in a region of Switzerland and France, can enjoy no such protection within the U.S.

A consortium of cheesemakers from the area of Gruyeres, Switzerland, sued in federal district court after the federal Trademark Trials and Appeals Board denied their application for trademark protection.

Ruling against them, Ellis wrote that trademark protection may have been warranted at one time, but not now.

"(D)ecades of importation, production, and sale of cheese labeled GRUYERE produced outside the Gruyere region of Switzerland and France have eroded the meaning of that term and rendered it generic," he wrote.

The consortium is appealing the ruling.

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