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Supreme Court allows Prop 12: Now what?

Hog Outlook: Consumers and producers will be affected by state production restrictions.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

June 12, 2023

3 Min Read
Pig and piglets in a production facility
CHANGING SPACE: California’s Prop 12 and Massachusetts Question 3 will force pig farmers to give sows and gilts more space, or else the pork products from those animals will not be allowed to be sold in those states.Courtesy of National Pork Board

About the only certainty surrounding California’s Prop 12 is that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to be enacted, and it will go into effect in early July.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Prop 12 was passed by California voters in 2018, and it will prohibit the sale of pork products from animals raised in production facilities that do not meet the Golden State’s arbitrary “humane” standards as they pertain to sows and gilts.

California is not a hotbed for hog production, but Prop 12 reigns supreme over hog production practices regardless of where those pigs are raised. This leaves pig farmers in the other 49 states, as well as producers from around the globe, to adapt to the Prop 12 standards or be shut out of the California market.

On the heels of Prop 12’s green light from the Supreme Court, Massachusetts has a similar law that as of this writing, may go into effect later in July. Similar to Prop 12’s sow housing standards, Massachusetts Question 3 adds the caveat prohibiting the shipment of whole pork through Massachusetts.

This greatly affects neighboring New England states, as the National Pork Producers Council says an estimated $2 billion worth of pork passes through Massachusetts to other states of destination.

The two laws affect both consumers and producers.

Some may say forget about Massachusetts and California, but according to a Profit Maximizer report by Steiner and Co. on behalf of the National Pork Board, the combined population of those two states is about 14% of the U.S. as a whole. The affluency, though, in those two states puts their per-capita expenditures above average, representing about 17% of national expenditures.

When people have more money, they spend more on food, and meats usually are high on the grocery list.

Once Prop 12 and Question 3 are enforced, meat counters in those two states may have slim pickings. Prop 12 covers uncooked pork, which means, apparently, that frozen cuts such as ground pork originate from pigs raised humanely. This presents an opportunity for NPB to further its push to get ground pork at the top of consumers’ minds.

Producer turning point

It is estimated that 5% to 8% of U.S. hog production currently meets these standards, allowing few producers to sell into the California market. The rest of the country’s producers face tough decisions: Convert to meet these new standards and sell into California, or stay the course and see what happens.

Industry estimates put the compliance conversion cost in the $294 million to $348 million range. That is a big ask of producers facing some of the toughest financial times in the past 25 years, as profits will be hard to attain because of high input costs.

Adding the prospect of expensive remodeling to meet the Prop 12 or Question 3 standards is not a pill producers want to or can swallow in the current climate. This combination of conditions may see an exodus of producers from the industry, between those already sitting on the edge of existence or those in their sunset years without a generation to absorb the operation.

There’s a fear that California and Massachusetts are only a beginning. It is believed that many others were merely waiting in the wings to see how the Supreme Court ruled on Prop 12. It remains to be seen if the floodgates open for similar production restrictions in other states. Of course, there’s nothing stopping states from writing even more strict production regulations.

A glimmer of hope exists as Congress may get involved to halt one state’s overreach to another state’s practices. Stay tuned.

Schulz, editor of The Farmer, grew up on the family hog farm in southern Minnesota, before a career in ag journalism, including National Hog Farmer.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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