A new California law, to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, could make pork products more expensive and harder to find in the Golden State. The law, which voters approved in 2018, requires that more space for egg-laying chickens, veal calves, and breeding pigs.
Although many national producers say they will eventually meet the new standards, only 3% to 5% of hog farmers and production facilities currently meet the California requirements.
Once the new law takes effect, California could lose the majority of its pork supply. To prevent this, the state or courts would need to intervene.
With very little time before going into effect, pork producers have limited time to make the necessary improvements, including building or upgrading new facilities, inseminating sows, and processing their offspring.
California consumes approximately 15% of all pork products produced in the U.S. Although many organizations have been pushing for more regulations and human treatment for farm animals, the passage of the law in 2018 is an example of voters approving a law and then literally paying the price afterward.
Hog producers in middle America already are struggling to adjust. Iowa raises approximately one-third of the country’s hogs. Iowa hog farmer Dwight Mogler runs a family farm in Alvord, Iowa.
Mogler said that his hog barns would need to be expanded to remain in compliance in January. He says that it would cost him $3 million but still only provide enough room for 250 pigs in a space currently holding 300.
Prices poised to jump
California depends on out-of-state pork producers to meet its demand. Its grocery outlets and restaurants use about 255 million pounds of pork per month. California produces 45 million pounds.
The National Pork Producers Council has asked for federal aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pork producers retrofit their facilities nationwide. Economist Barry Goodwin of North Carolina State University estimated additional costs to be about 15% more per animal for a farm with 1,000 breeder pigs.
The owner of SAMS American Eatery in San Francisco, Jeannie Kim, said her restaurant survived the pandemic. However, Kim is worried that her diner, which focuses on breakfast items, could be ruined by the pork law. One of her top menu items is bacon.
According to a study done by a consulting firm hired by the law’s opponents, bacon prices will jump 60% on all pork items if California loses half of its pork supply.
The pork industry has filed lawsuits against the California law, but courts have upheld the law so far.
A coalition of California businesses and restaurants and the National Pork Producer Council have asked California Gov. Gavin Newsom to delay the upcoming requirements. The council is optimistic that meat in the supply chain now can meet demand, possibly delaying shortages.