California bacon law: Lawsuit filed to new animal welfare rule, adding to uncertainty over 2022 shortages, pork price increases

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Sacramento, California — A coalition of California restaurants and grocery stores is suing to block implementation of a new farm animal welfare law, adding to uncertainty over whether bacon and other fresh pork products will be too expensive or unavailable. In the state when the new rules take effect on New Year’s Day.

The lawsuit is the latest step in a turbulent three-year process to enact rules that voters overwhelmingly approved but which remain in question even as the law begins. Since voters approved Proposition 12 by a 2-to-1 ratio in November 2018, state officials have missed deadlines to issue specific regulations covering the humane treatment of animals that provide meat to the California market.

Most pig producers have not made changes to comply with the law. Now a coalition of business owners is seeking a delay of more than two years.

“We’re saying it’s not going to work,” said Nate Rose, a California Grocery Association spokesperson.

While groups are delaying the measure, the state has eased the transition to the new system. Pork cured according to old rules and kept in cold storage was allowed to be sold in California in 2022, which could prevent shortages for weeks or even months.

As Josh Balk, who leads farm animal protection efforts at the Humane Society of the United States, said, Californians need not fear “the pork industry’s claims of the end of the world.”

Simply put, the law requires breeding pigs, laying hens, and calves to be given enough space to stand and turn. For pigs, this means that they can no longer be kept in narrow “carry boxes” and must contain 24 square feet (2.23 square meters) of usable space.

It appeared that egg and veal producers were able to meet the new law, but pig farmers argued that the changes would be too expensive and could not be implemented until the state agreed to final regulations for the new standards. An estimate from North Carolina State University found that the new standard would cost about 15% more per animal for a farm with 1,000 breeding pigs.

The National Pork Producers Council has challenged California’s right to impose standards on companies in other states, but so far those efforts have failed.

California is the nation’s largest market for pork, and producers in major pig states such as Iowa provide more than 80% of the roughly 255 million pounds (115 million kilograms) used by California restaurants and grocery stores each month, according to Rabobank, a global food conglomerate. and Agricultural Financial Services Corporation.

Without that supply, it’s unclear whether a country that consumes about 13% of the country’s pork supply will own all the meat it orders. The North American Meat Institute, an industry group, said the packers and processors “will do everything in their power to serve the California market.”

“What’s going to happen in California? I don’t know,” said Michael Formica, general counsel for the National Pork Producers Council. “The only thing we know is that there will be limited supplies for sale there.”

Adding to the uncertainty is the lawsuit filed last month in Sacramento County by the California Grocery Association, the California Restaurant Association, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the California Retailers Association and Kruse & Sons, a meat processing company. The lawsuit seeks a 28-month delay until the final regulations to enforce the rules are formally adopted.

The California Departments of Agriculture and Health said the voter-backed measure did not give them enough time to agree to final regulations. The agencies were still accepting public comments for review in December. This means that it may take months before the final rules are approved.

Given this delay, the groups claim in the lawsuit that they cannot be sure of their compliance and could be subject to the penalties prescribed by law.

“Our concern is the uncertainty,” said Rose of the Grocery Association. He said the judge has scheduled the hearing for March, but the group is pushing for an early date.

If the law goes into effect on January 1, the state could avoid immediate shortages or sharp price increases because the industry has about 466 million pounds (211 million kilograms) of pork in stock. Not all of that meat can be sent to California, of course, but when combined with a new supply of processors that meet the new standards, it should satisfy at least some demand.

If there is disruption, “it will be mitigated significantly,” said Daniel Sumner, a professor at the University of California-Davis, who collaborated with colleagues to study the price and supply implications of Supply 12.

While a previous study predicted bacon prices would rise as much as 60% in California, a UC-Davis report estimated that raw ham prices would eventually rise by a manageable 8% in California.

Massachusetts has approved a similar animal welfare law that goes into effect next month, but state lawmakers are considering delaying it by one year due to supply concerns.

The accuracy of California’s estimates may depend on how many farmers adopt the new standards and how long the transition takes.

Iowa farmer Ron Mardisin already meets California standards, and for much of the year he gives sow the freedom to roam large areas of his farm about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Des Moines.

With so much space, “they’re like a bunch of big sisters,” he said. “You can tell they’re happy. Nobody screams or cries.”

Chris Olivero, general manager of meat specialist Niman Ranch in Westminster, Colorado, said he hopes the new California rules will help change a system he calls “lower cost at all costs.” Although Nieman charges more for pork, he said he hopes the new California rules will help reduce the environmental consequences of large-scale animal farming.

“There is volatility in the markets, so I understand the concerns that come with that, but I also think that most of the big agricultural companies have shown that when they put their minds to it they are very capable of solving complex problems,” said Oliviero.

The video in the above media player was used in a previous report.

Copyright © 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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