Iowa Farmers Prepare for California’s Prop 12

Man in gray tee and blue jeans walking in a field with two hogs behind him


Hogs born Jan. 1, 2022, or later are subject to California’s Prop 12.

Some Iowa agricultural leaders have criticized the law, which prohibits the sale of pork from hogs that are the offspring of sows that were raised in pens with less than 24 square feet of usable floorspace per pig.

California accounts for about 15% of the U.S. pork market, the National Pork Producers Council said in a September news release. The NPPC is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to determine Prop 12’s constitutionality.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Farm and Ag Business Management Specialist Kelvin Leibold told The Center Square in an emailed statement that Iowa farmers are preparing for the enforcement of Prop 12.

Leibold said that while animal farms do their best to prevent the spread of disease, that’s not always possible.

“Pigs are like people,” Leibold said. “They move around from farm to farm, they play together and they ride in various forms of transportation. So, pigs get sick.”

One strategy to address sickness in pigs is “depop, repop,” he said.

“You sellevery last pig you have on the farm and sanitize the heck out of everything and then you bring in some new (hopefully disease free) pigs and start your herd back up,” he said.

That’s an opportunity to remodel.

“Several farms are remodeling their gestation barns to meet Prop 12 standards so when they come back into production they will meet the standards and hopefully get paid a bunch of extra money for doing it!” he wrote. “Now the ‘harvest facilities’ will have to figure out how to process pigs into bacon and be able to sell the whole pig into the California market and make some money doing that as well.”

Leibold said there will not be enough pork to meet demand, and he hopes Californians will continue to be willing to pay premium prices for pork that meets Prop 12 standards.

“The pork price and the pork supply will reach some kind of equilibrium that matches increased costs with the price point that works for everybody,” he said. “But that will be a price higher than the current high prices.”

The rules aren’t finalized, however, and the North American Meat Institute, which advocates for the meat and poultry industry, continues to contest Prop 12. It told the California Department of Food and Agriculture that the proposed rules, despite changes, remain flawed and that the department must finalize them before enforcing them.

“Until CDFA publishes final rules, no one can adequately prepare to comply with a law with criminal sanctions and that authorizes civil litigation,” NAMI General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Mark Dopp said in a Dec. 20 news release regarding a Dec 17 letter he sent to the department’s Animal Care Program Program Manager Dr. Elizabeth Cox. “Rather than apply ‘band aids’ to address some challenges, NAMI suggests CDFA go further and afford everyone in the supply chain, from hog producers all the way to foodservice and retail entities, the 28-month preparation time the law, and the voters, contemplated before enforcing any aspect of Prop 12 or its regulations.”

Dopp said in the letter that if the department does not extend preparation time, it should clearly state on its website and in a final rule that both whole pork meat that has entered supply chain and meat from hogs born by the end of December is not subject to Prop 12, as it stated in a March FAQ document.

Under Prop 12, the department was supposed to announce regulations for the law by Sept. 1, 2019.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law Wednesday delaying the state’s similar voter-approved law, Question 3, until August 2022.

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