Who’s Got the Bacon and Eggs? Anti-Confinement Laws Will Change the Entire Domestic Pork Industry

California voters demand new regulations for the confinement of animals raised for food. Pork producers and processors will not be ready when these regulations go into effect on January 1, 2022. Scott Haskell explains.

Scott Haskell teaches the online course “Global Animal Health, Food Safety, and International Trade” each fall semester, and "The Law of the Preventive Controls for Human Food Rule" each spring semester.

In 2018, California (CA) voters passed Proposition 12 by a two-thirds majority, which bans the sale of meat from pigs born to sows who spent their pregnancy in ‘farrowing’ or ‘gestational’ crates. Additional states have passed similar though less inclusive statutes. “Ten states have voter-approved statutes that ban gestation crates on commercial farms”. Massachusetts passed a similar animal welfare law in 2015. Both the California and Massachusetts laws go into effect January 1, 2022. These laws stipulate minimum housing space requirements for pigs, veal calves, and hens. Additionally, they ban the sale of any pork, eggs, and veal, from animals that do not meet these CA specified criteria no matter what state they originate in. Whole Foods, Walmart, McDonald’s, and more than 50 other industry leaders that sell pork also agree with these laws. It’s conclusive that the pork industry as well as poultry and veal will be mandated to change production techniques to remain in the game.

While the federal Animal Welfare Act regulates animal care within research and zoos, there are currently no federal laws to regulate the treatment of animals farmed for food. If there are any regulations, they all are state driven mandates. The CA law, which goes into effect in January 2022, affects pork production and processors nationwide. 

In California the ballot initiative amended the California Health and Safety Code. “On November 6, 2018, California voters approved Proposition 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, which amended requirements in Chapter 13.8, sections 25990 through 25994 of the Health and Safety Code (HSC). The revised law requires that covered animals be housed in confinement systems that comply with specific standards for freedom of movement, cage-free design, and minimum floor space, and identifies covered animals to include veal calves, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens, as specified. HSC section 25990 prohibits a farm owner or operator from knowingly causing any covered animal to be confined in a cruel manner, as specified, and prohibits a business owner or operator from knowingly engaging in the sale within the state of shell eggs, liquid eggs, whole pork meat or whole veal meat, as defined, from animals housed in a cruel manner.

“The Department is proposing to adopt new Chapter 10 (commencing with section 1320) of Division 2 of Title 3 of the California Code of Regulations to implement Health and Safety Code sections 25990-25994 Farm Animal Cruelty, which mandates farm animal confinement standards and directs the Department of Public Health to jointly promulgate regulations to implement the provisions for specified farm animals and the sale of specified products derived from them.

“In addition to general requirements that prohibit animals from being confined in a manner that prevents lying down, standing up, fully extending limbs or turning around freely, the measure added detailed confinement space standards for farms subject to the law”. (CDFA, CDFA-Prop12)

California’s Proposition 12 of 2018, unlike the previously passed less restrictive CA Proposition 2, prohibits the confinement of breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-producing hens. It specifies a specific number of housing square feet, rather than restrictions based on less measurable criteria such as animal welfare issues associated with animal movement and animal behavior. Here is the overarching industry issue: Proposition 12 also banned the sale of (a) uncooked pork from breeding pigs, (b) shelled and liquid eggs from hens, (c) veal meat when the animals are confined to areas below the specified minimum square-foot housing requirements. The clock is ticking!

“Beginning in 2020, Proposition 12 is to ban the confinement of:

  • calves (young domestic cows) in areas with less than 43 square feet of usable floor space per calf and
  • egg-laying hens (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) in areas with less than 1 square foot of usable floor space per hen.

Beginning in 2022, Proposition 12 is set to ban the confinement of:

  • breeding pigs and their immediate offspring in areas with less than 24 square feet of usable floor space per pig and
  • egg-laying hens in areas other than indoor or outdoor cage-free housing systems based on the United Egg Producers' 2017 cage-free guidelines, which define cage-free housing as areas that provide 1.0 to 1.5 square feet of usable floor space per hen and allow hens to move around inside the area.” (BallotPedia)

There is a substantial difference between the current pork industry housing standards of 16 square feet per pig and the CA Proposition 12 requirement of at least 24 square feet. It has been estimated by the National Pork Producers Council that less than 1 percent of U.S. pork producers are currently in compliance with CA Proposition 12.  Additionally, it seems that less than 4% of the country’s 66,000 pork producers currently meet the new laws’ minimum space requirements of 24 square feet.

Currently, there are very few U.S. producers that even remotely meet these specified space requirements. One processor, Coleman Natural Foods (a division of Perdue Premium Meats Company (PPMC)) decided prior to Prop 12 to increase crate space to 20 square feet per pig within their contract farms. Proposition 12 passed with a 24-feet minimum; only a third of the Coleman contract farms have this space or can expand their facilities to meet these new requirements. Coleman is currently the only large-scale U.S commercial pork production company in compliance with the California and Massachusetts farm animal laws.

It should be noted that though California is not a major pork producing state, it is a major consumer of pork. With Californians consuming 15 percent of the total U.S. pork supply, this law will change the industry. CA Proposition 12’s prohibition on pork or egg sales will directly impede pork producers, fast food franchises, grocery stores, processors, and shippers. Essentially if pork processors and producers do not comply by January 1, 2022, they will not be allowed to do business in California or Massachusetts. It is highly likely that more states will follow.

Not surprisingly, studies have shown over a three-year period, 70 percent of industry buyers were more willing to stock humane certified animal products. Demand and subsequent profitability due to strong sales trends reflect new product support. Additionally, according to new product research, 81 percent of grocery consumers view transparency as important for the products they buy, especially animal products. Transparency has been a recurring issue associated with domestic and imported meat production. In many instances, consumers do not feel that the industry has been completely transparent in their production practices.

Though the law was passed at the state level in both California and Massachusetts, national consequences have and will occur.

Trade and industry groups have challenged the Prop 12 law in federal court, but thus far, California voters have the full support of the courts. There is less than five months remaining before the law comes into effect; adequate changes within the pork industry in production practices which will cost billions have been slow in coming if at all. The egg and veal industries will be able to meet the new law deadlines without too many issues. Pork producers and processors will not be ready. Pork prices across the board will increase substantially. It will be interesting to see how the food industry will face these issues. California's 'Great Bacon Crisis of 2022' will have negative financial impact on consumers and the industry initially. Pork is not going to disappear in California and Massachusetts in 2022, but the cost is likely to rise. 

Disclaimer. 

References

Mo Chen, et. al. (2021) Study on Consumer Preference for Traceable Pork with Animal Welfare Attribute. Front Psychol. 2021; 12: 675554. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8281310/

Scherer, L., et al. (2018) Framework for integrating animal welfare into life cycle sustainability assessment. Int J Life Cycle Assess. 2018; 23(7): 1476–1490. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6435210/

 Health and Safety Codes California https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=HSC&division=20.&title=&part=&chapter=13.8.&article

2010 California Code Health and Safety Code Chapter 13.8. Farm Animal Cruelty https://law.justia.com/codes/california/2010/hsc/25990-25994.html

An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Intensively Confined Animals in Battery Cages, Gestation Crates, and Veal Crates. https://www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/hsus-report-animal-welfare-of-intensively-confined-animals.pdf

Lingling, X., et. al. (2019) Consumers’ Willingness to Pay for Food with Information on Animal Welfare, Lean Meat Essence Detection, and Traceability. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16(19), 3616; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16193616

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