Prop 12: New California law to impact pork and egg industries

A new law goes into effect in January that calls for more humane treatment of farm animals by setting space requirements at farms, following Proposition 12, which was passed by 63% of California voters in 2018. 

The proposition, authored by the Humane Society of the United States, established space requirements based on square feet for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens. It also bans the sale of veal from calves, pork from breeding pigs and eggs from hens when the animals are confined to areas below the minimum space requirements, meaning companies that do not comply with the requirements can not sell their products in California starting on January 1, 2022. 

Though the proposition passed in 2018, it took years to implement, according to Matt Klink, a political consultant for Klink Campaigns. 

"It took a while to lead in. One [reason] and most importantly to give the hog producers and people who grow chickens, time to phase in California's requirements because the initiative not only affects products raised in California but products sold in California from other states so it's fairly far-reaching," said Klink. 

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Proposition 12 made the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Department of Public Health responsible for the measure's implementation. 

The proposition was spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States. Josh Balk, the Vice President of Animal Protection told Fox 11 he is "excited for the proposition to come into effect." 

"It's a modest animal cruelty law banning the confinement of farm animals in cages so small, they can barely move more than a few inches their entire lives for years and years on end. It is cruel and inhumane to cage an animal as if she is confined in her own coffin. Imagine confining your dog in a cage barely larger than your dog's own body, never able to turn around, never able to move side to side more than a few inches. Californians came together, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike to vote in favor of creating a more compassionate and humane food system and better treatment for animals," said Balk.

Currently, in the majority of the US, breeding pigs are confined in small enclosures and egg-laying hens are confined into cages, which is now illegal under Proposition 12 in California. 

However, the impacts are far-reaching outside of California as pork and egg producers will be required to retrofit existing barns or build new barns to comply. 

Egg producers are largely expected to be able to comply due to changes over the years, such as cage-free operations, however, many pork producers are expected to be in trouble. 

"The veal and egg industry has already made changes to comply with proposition 12. It begs the question for some of these producers, while your competitors had been making changes, what had they been doing over the past three years. Why are they entrenched and obsessed with confining a mother pig in a cage so small she never can turn around. The pork industry is notorious for its cruelty and abuse and this is just another example," said Balk.

However, Michael Formica, General Counsel of the National Pork Producers Council, sees the issue much differently. 

"It's going to be a struggle for California families. Maybe if you've got millions of dollars, you're a Silicon Valley billionaire or multi-millionaire, you can afford $36/pound bacon, but I suspect the vast majority of people in California aren't really in that category," said Formica.

Formica said the prices will go up for pork products, and it could impact pork availability too. 

"We don't know what's going to happen, but what happens Monday morning when moms go to the supermarket to buy groceries for the week? Is there gonna be pork available? Is there going to be bacon available and we don't know. There might be some leftover product. I suspect some retailers have purchased in advance," said Formica. 

Formica said farmers will struggle to comply.

"They're going to struggle to comply with this. California hasn't released any regulations so even if they were inclined to comply, they don't know how to because there's no rules telling them what to do. The end result is 98% of the pork in the marketplace is not going to be able to be sold in California," he said.

Formica said the costs to retrofit or build new barns is high too.

"To make the physical changes, because it's going to require either tearing down farms or building brand new farms, with all the supply chain disruptions, we keep seeing figures in the $15-17 million range for a family farmer so if you're a family farmer already struggling with everything else going on in the economy now if you want to continue in the business, you have to go to your banker and ask for a $15-17 million loan to build a barn. It's going to drive family farmers out of business and lead to eventually far more consolidation and integration," he said.

The proposition has already faced several lawsuits, including some filed by the National Pork Producers Council, but none have been successful thus far.

"The very large pork producers and meat producers have been primarily the ones to sue, stop or modify this and they've failed at every step along the way. They've lost at the 9th circuit and a number of different courts. The Supreme Court failed to hear one of the cases by one of the national meat organizations," said Klink. 

However, the National Pork Producers Council along with the American Farm Bureau Federation filed a challenge at the Supreme Court level, hoping to overturn the new law. 

"We hope to hear from the Supreme Court between January 7th to the 14th," said Formica. 

The National Pork Producers Council is arguing the law is not constitutional and that it violates the Interstate Commerce Clause. 

"California doesn't raise pigs so the state is reaching into other states, also reaching into other countries like Canada and Mexico," said Formica. 

A local wholesaler, who wanted to remain anonymous, told FOX 11 they will not be selling pork products next week due to the new law. 

"I do think that the law will go into effect on January 1, 2022 and there will be some initial enforcement. Once the law goes into effect on January 1, for example, hogs will need to be given 24 square feet of room. Any company that doesn't comply can't sell their products in California. There are some that will argue this will lead to a bacon shortage in California, well that's a failure to plan by these big companies. They had three years to get their act together and if there is a bacon shortage in California, guess what, they're losing out on arguably one of the largest markets in the United States, and they will adapt quickly to be able to sell their products here. It may lead to some increased prices in the short term but the rest of the world is heading this way," said Klink. 

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