People Are Panicking About a Potential Pork Crisis in California

Voter-approved Prop 12 is great news for farm animals, but some predict it will cause supply and pricing issues come January

Starting next year, California bacon lovers will pay the price for also caring about the welfare of farm animals, as the Golden State begins to enforce strict new standards on some meat and eggs sold here.

Proposition 12—which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018 and is set to go into effect January 1—bans the sale of pork, veal, and eggs from suppliers who don’t meet new minimum space requirements for breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens. It’s good news for the animals, but the bad news for the pork-hungry masses is that only 4 percent of the nation’s pig farmers believe they’ll be able to comply with the new regulations, which could send California bacon prices soaring by 60 percent, the Associated Press reports.

The breakfast math on that means the $6 pack of bacon you buy today will run you $9.60 come New Year’s brunch, according to a study by the Hatamiya Group, a consulting firm hired by the Prop 12’s opponents.

Those opponents, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), just lost their latest attempt to put the brakes on the new measures last week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against them, Food & Wine reports.

The meat lobbyists argued that the law violates the Constitution’s Interstate Commerce Clause by effectually regulating out-of-state [meat and egg] production by requiring those producers to “submit to California’s mandated production methods or lose access to California’s large market.”

Judge Sandra S. Ikuta found their position lacking, however, writing in the 9th Circuit’s unanimous decision, “It is undisputed that Proposition 12 is neither a price-control nor price-affirmation statute, as it neither dictates the price of pork products nor ties the price of pork products sold in California to out-of-state prices.”

While California restaurants and grocers go through about 255 pounds of pork a month, only 45 million pounds are produced by its farms, global food and agriculture financial services company Rabobank calculates, and no one believes that mismatch can addressed by the beginning of the year. But something is going to have to be done, with Californians eating 15 percent of the country’s annual pork production.

“We are very concerned about the potential supply impacts and therefore cost increases,” Matt Sutton, public policy director of the California Restaurant Association, tells the AP.

The NPPC has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture for federal aid to help pay for retrofitting hog facilities around the nation to help bear the burden—which North Carolina State University economist Barry Goodwin estimates could cost pig farmers an extra 15 percent per animal for a farm with 1,000 breeding pigs.

Hog farmers, meanwhile, say they’re not in compliance due to those costs and because California still hasn’t issued formal regulations on how the new standards will be administered and enforced.

The Humane Society’s Josh Balk, who runs the group’s farm animal protection efforts, has little sympathy for pig farmers and their customers, telling the AP, “It says something about the pork industry when it seems its business operandi is to lose at the ballot when they try to defend the practices and then when animal cruelty laws are passed, to try to overturn them.”

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