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What's Next for the U.S. Pork Industry After Prop 12 Ruling?
South Dakota Ag Connection - 06/08/2023

Pork producers are still digesting the Prop 12 decision handed down by the Supreme Court but at this point they have more questions than answers.

The court upheld a rule that all pork sold in California after July 1 must be from sows given 24 square feet of pen space, which impacts pork producers not just in California.

Craig Andersen is a pork producer from Centerville, South Dakota. He says, “But what we’re talking about here is that it’s going outside of the state. It’s controlling what the whole nation might end up doing just because of how large that market is.”

So, California is dictating that to sell pork there producers must change to group housing. Matt Gent, President, Iowa Pork Producers Association says, " We all know what's correct for our animals in our farm and our facilities and it gets tough when one state or two states or or any activist group tries to tell us what to do and they really have no idea."

Producers, including Gent, also point out that Prop 12 is based on morality, not science. "So, I think a lot of younger generations don't really understand why we put pigs in a crate in the first place. It isn't because we don't want that pig to not be able to turn around or walk. It's because pigs really like their own space. And when they can't get their own space, they fight a lot."

And a change to group housing will lower productivity and increase their cost according to Matt Romoser, who also raises pigs in Washington County Iowa and serves as an Iowa State University Extension Swine Field Specialist. So you're going to have not only incurred costs with it with a retrofit, and you're gonna have probably some slump productivity as well just because it's going to be a learning curve for everybody."

The unknowns include who will produce and process pork specifically for California. How will processors keep product segregated for that market and what will that mean for farm inspections to verify compliance? Andersen says, “We want to take care of the welfare of the animals, we want our biosecurity. That’s one of the things that’s really going to be thrown out the door too with this because these inspections are supposed to be done at any time.”

One of the unintended consequences could be some producers, especially those smaller operations, will liquidate says Romoser. "I hope that it doesn't cause further contraction of the industry. I think most people assume that it probably well, just because of the incurred costs it'll take to be able to retrofit and meet demands for really a significant but still small percentage of the domestic market, right."

At the heart of the Supreme Court ruling is the negative impact Prop 12 will have on interstate commerce. Eldon McAfee, lawyer with the Iowa Pork Producers Association says, "This court stopped them at first base and said your lawsuit as written should be dismissed because you don't make the case for protection under the Dormant Commerce Clause."


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