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Bacon may disappear in California as new law could make pork harder to find, more expensive

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Aug 3, 2021, 12:55:24 PM8/3/21

Thanks to a reworked menu and long hours, Jeannie Kim managed to keep her
San Francisco restaurant alive during the coronavirus pandemic.

That makes it all the more frustrating that she fears her breakfast-
focused diner could be ruined within months by new rules that could make
one of her top menu items — bacon — hard to get in California.

“Our number one seller is bacon, eggs and hash browns,” said Kim, who for
15 years has run SAMS American Eatery on the city’s busy Market Street.
“It could be devastating for us.”

At the beginning of next year, California will begin enforcing an animal
welfare proposition approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2018 that
requires more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal
calves. National veal and egg producers are optimistic they can meet the
new standards, but only 4% of hog operations now comply with the new
rules. Unless the courts intervene or the state temporarily allows non-
compliant meat to be sold in the state, California will lose almost all of
its pork supply, much of which comes from Iowa, and pork producers will
face higher costs to regain a key market.

Animal welfare organizations for years have been pushing for more humane
treatment of farm animals but the California rules could be a rare case of
consumers clearly paying a price for their beliefs.

With little time left to build new facilities, inseminate sows and process
the offspring by January, it’s hard to see how the pork industry can
adequately supply California, which consumes roughly 15% of all pork
produced in the country.

“We are very concerned about the potential supply impacts and therefore
cost increases,” said Matt Sutton, the public policy director for the
California Restaurant Association.

California’s restaurants and groceries use about 255 million pounds of
pork a month, but its farms produce only 45 million pounds, according to
Rabobank, a global food and agriculture financial services company.

The National Pork Producers Council has asked the U.S. Department of
Agriculture for federal aid to help pay for retrofitting hog facilities
around the nation to fill the gap. Hog farmers said they haven’t complied
because of the cost and because California hasn’t yet issued formal
regulations on how the new standards will be administered and enforced.

Barry Goodwin, an economist at North Carolina State University, estimated
the extra costs at 15% more per animal for a farm with 1,000 breeding

If half the pork supply was suddenly lost in California, bacon prices
would jump 60%, meaning a $6 package would rise to about $9.60, according
to a study by the Hatamiya Group, a consulting firm hired by opponents of
the state proposition.

At one typical hog farm in Iowa, sows are kept in open-air crates
measuring 14-square-feet when they join a herd and then for a week as part
of the insemination process before moving to larger, roughly 20-square
foot group pens with other hogs. Both are less than the 24 square feet
required by the California law to give breeding pigs enough room to turn
around and to extend their limbs. Other operations keep sows in the crates
nearly all of the time so also wouldn’t be in compliance.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said that although the
detailed regulations aren’t finished, the key rules about space have been
known for years.

“It is important to note that the law itself cannot be changed by
regulations and the law has been in place since the Farm Animal
Confinement Proposition (Prop 12) passed by a wide margin in 2018,” the
agency said in response to questions from the AP.

The pork industry has filed lawsuits but so far courts have supported the
California law. The National Pork Producers Council and a coalition of
California restaurants and business groups have asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to
delay the new requirements. The council also is holding out hope that meat
already in the supply chain could be sold, potentially delaying shortages.

Josh Balk, who leads farm animal protection efforts at the Humane Society
of the United States, said the pork industry should accept the
overwhelming view of Californians who want animals treated more humanely.

“Why are pork producers constantly trying to overturn laws relating to
cruelty to animals?” Balk asked. “It says something about the pork
industry when it seems its business operandi is to lose at the ballot when
they try to defend the practices and then when animal cruelty laws are
passed, to try to overturn them.”

In Iowa, which raises about one-third of the nation’s hogs, farmer Dwight
Mogler estimates the changes would cost him $3 million and allow room for
250 pigs in a space that now holds 300.

To afford the expense, Mogler said, he’d need to earn an extra $20 per pig
and so far, processors are offering far less.

“The question to us is, if we do these changes, what is the next change
going to be in the rules two years, three years, five years ahead?” Mogler

The California rules also create a challenge for slaughterhouses, which
now may send different cuts of a single hog to locations around the nation
and to other countries. Processors will need to design new systems to
track California-compliant hogs and separate those premium cuts from
standard pork that can serve the rest of the country.

At least initially, analysts predict that even as California pork prices
soar, customers elsewhere in the country will see little difference.
Eventually, California’s new rules could become a national standard
because processors can’t afford to ignore the market in such a large

Kim, the San Francisco restaurant owner, said she survived the pandemic by
paring back her menu, driving hundreds of miles herself through the Bay
Area to deliver food and reducing staff.

Kim, who is Korean-American, said she’s especially worried for small
restaurants whose customers can’t afford big price increases and that
specialize in Asian and Hispanic dishes that typically include pork.

“You know, I work and live with a lot of Asian and Hispanic populations in
the city and their diet consists of pork. Pork is huge,” Kim said. “It’s
almost like bread and butter.”

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dozens of judges and three SCOTUS justices.
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