A coalition of California restaurants and grocery stores has filed a lawsuit to block the implementation of a new farm animal welfare law, adding to uncertainty over whether bacon and others Fresh pork products will be much more expensive or scarce in the state when the new rules take effect on New Years Day.
The trial is the final step in a tumultuous three-year process to enact rules that have been approved by an overwhelming majority by voters, but which remain in question even as the law is about to begin. 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 for the Californian market.
Most pork producers have not made any changes to comply with the law. And now a coalition of business owners is asking for more than two years.
“We’re saying it won’t work,” said Nate Rose, spokesperson for the California Grocers Association.
As groups work to delay the measure, the state has eased the transition to the new system. It allowed pork processed under the old rules and kept in a cold warehouse to be sold in California in 2022, which could prevent shortages for weeks or even months.
As Josh Balk, who leads farm animal welfare efforts at the Humane Society of the United States, said, California residents need not fear “the swine industry claims about the apocalypse.” “.
Simply put, the law requires breeding pigs, laying hens and veal calves to have enough space to stand up and turn around. For pigs, this means that they can no longer be kept in narrow “gestation crates” and must have 24 square feet (2.23 square meters) of usable space.
Egg and veal producers appear to be able to comply with the new law, but pig farmers argued the changes would be too costly and could not be implemented until the state approved the regulations final 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 of 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 country’s largest market for pork, and producers in major pork states like Iowa supply more than 80% of the roughly 255 million pounds (115 million kilograms) that California restaurants and grocery stores use each month. , according to Rabobank, a global food and agricultural financial services company.
Without this supply, it is not clear whether a state that consumes around 13% of the country’s pork supply will have all the meat it needs. The North American Meat Institute, an industry group, said packers and processors “will do their best 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. “One thing we do know is that there will be limited supplies for sale there.”
The lawsuit filed last month in Sacramento County by the California Grocers Association, the California Restaurant Association, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the California Retailers Association and Kruse & Sons, a meat processor, adds to the uncertainty. The lawsuit is asking for 28 months until the final rules for the enforcement of the rules are formally adopted.
California’s departments of agriculture and health said the voter-backed measure did not give them enough time to approve final regulations. Agencies were still accepting public comments for reviews in December. This means that it could be months before the final rules are approved.
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Given the delay, the groups claim in the lawsuit that they cannot be sure of complying and could face penalties under the law.
“Our concern is uncertainty,” said Rose, of the Grocers Association. He said a judge had scheduled a hearing for March, but the group is pushing for an earlier date.
If the law goes into effect Jan. 1, there is a possibility the state could avoid immediate shortages or significant price increases, as the industry has around 466 million pounds (211 million kilograms) of pork in inventory. Of course, not all of that meat can be sent to California, but when combined with new supplies from processors that meet the new standards, it should meet at least part of the demand.
If there is a disruption, it “would be considerably smoothed out,” said Daniel Sumner, a professor at the University of California-Davis, who has teamed up with colleagues to study the pricing and supply implications of the proposal. 12.
While a previous study predicted bacon prices to skyrocket by up to 60% in California, a UC-Davis report estimated that uncooked pork prices would ultimately rise 8% more manageable in California.
Massachusetts has approved a similar animal welfare law that will take effect next month, but state lawmakers are considering a one-year delay due to supply issues.
The accuracy of California estimates may depend on how many farmers adopt the new standards and how long the transition takes.
Iowa farmer Ron Mardesen already meets California standards and for much of the year gives sows free rein to roam large areas of his farm about 100 miles southwest of Des Monks.
With so much space, “They’re like a bunch of big and old sisters,” he said. “You can tell they’re happy. No one is screaming or crying.
Chris Oliviero, general manager of Niman Ranch, a specialty meat company in Westminster, Colo., Said he hopes the new California rules will help change a system he calls “cheaper at all costs.” . Although Niman charges more for his pork, he said he hopes the new California rules will help limit the environmental consequences of large-scale animal farming.
“There is volatility in the markets, so I understand the fears that come with that, but I also think that most of the big agricultural companies have shown that when they think about it, they are very capable of solving complex problems.” said Oliviero.
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This story has been updated to correct the amount of pork eaten in California and the amount in cold storage. Josh Balk’s last name has also been corrected.