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Stop the bacon haters: That is the message of a coalition of grocers and restaurant groups that have filed suit to stop a farm animal welfare law in California from taking effect on Jan. 1 that likely will lead to a shortage of fresh pork products and, of course, higher prices.
The Associated Press reported on Sunday that the lawsuit is just the latest action in a chaotic process spanning three years to enact rules that voters overwhelmingly approved but nevertheless remain under scrutiny just days before the law is supposed to begin.
In November 2018, voters by a 2-to-1 margin voted in favor of Proposition 12, which requires more humane treatment of animals raised to provide meat that is ultimately sold in the state. But California officials have consistently missed deadlines for enacting regulations providing for enforcement of the rules. Also, the AP notes that most hog producers have not adopted changes in their operations to comply with the law.
Now, a group of business owners seeks to delay implementation of the law by more than two years, the AP reported.
“We’re saying this is not going to work,” Nate Rose, a spokesman for the California Grocers Association, told the newswire.
Even as the coalition seeks to delay the law, state officials have sought to ease into the new system by allowing pork that was processed under the old regulatory system to be kept in cold storage so it can be sold in California next year, which will likely prevent shortages for several weeks to months.
Thus, according to Josh Balk, head of farm animal protection actions at the Humane Society of the United States, residents in California should not worry about “pork industry claims of the apocalypse.”
As the AP explained, the new law requires farmers to provide breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying chickens enough room to stand and turn around. For pigs specifically, “that means they can no longer be kept in narrow ‘gestation crates’ and must have 24 square feet (2.23 square meters) of usable space,” the AP reported.
While most egg and veal producers can meet the new law’s requirements, hog farmers have pushed back, arguing that creating that much space per pig is too expensive and therefore they could not be met until California actually approved and issued the new regulations. One estimate from North Carolina State University said that the new rule would add 15 percent to the cost of raising each hog on a farm with 1,000 breeding pigs.
As such, the National Pork Producers Council has filed legal challenges to California’s bid to impose its own set of rules on businesses not located in the state, but so far the group has been unsuccessful.
The biggest state in the country population-wise, California is also the country’s largest pork market. Farmers in Iowa and other major hog-producing states provide Californians with about 80 percent or around 255 million pounds of pork sold and used by California grocers and restaurants, according to an estimate from Rabobank, worldwide agriculture and food financial services corporation.
In all, 13 percent of all pork consumption in the U.S. takes place in the Golden State — and with the new rules in place, it’s not clear if Californians will be able to access all of the pork products they want.
“What will happen in California? I don’t know,” Michael Formica, the general counsel for the National Pork Producers Council, told the AP. “One thing we know is there will be finite supplies to sell there.”
It’s also unclear if or when the law will finally take effect following the filing of a lawsuit in Sacramento County last month “by the California Grocers Association, California Restaurant Association, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, California Retailers Association and Kruse & Sons, a meat processor,” the AP noted.
The suit asks for a 28-month delay in the law’s implementation.
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