The biggest pork market in the U.S. could no longer be accessible to Canadian pork producers if a ballot initiative, known as Proposition 12, becomes law.
Proposition 12 was part of the state of California’s general election ballot in 2018. Also known as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, it aims to establish new minimum requirements on farmers to provide more space for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal. California businesses will be banned from selling eggs or uncooked pork or veal that came from animals housed in ways that did not meet these requirements.
The requirements are rather vague, but primarily deal with providing animals with more space when confined within livestock housing. For pigs, 24 square feet of usable floor space must be available per animal to all gilts at breeding, weaned sows, and gestating gilts and sows, but this does not apply to cull sows.
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Exceptions are when sows are being transported, used in research trials, need to be individually treated, immediately prior to slaughter, five days prior to the expected farrowing date, and when nursing piglets.
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Proposition 12 builds on the requirements set out in a previous ballot measure in 2008, known as California Proposition 2. The language within Proposition 2 was even more vague – simply stating that pigs, hens, and calves be able to spread their wings or limbs and turn around. Although few specifics on spacing were given, Proposition 2 was obviously targeting the use of conventional cages for laying hens, gestation crates for sows and confinement of veal calves.
The primary proponent of both of these Propositions is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), with support with numerous other animal welfare groups. The HSUS is touting Proposition 12 as the “strongest law in the world for farm animals.”
A blog written by HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block states that 7.5 million voters (63 per cent) supported the ballot initiative and “after an exhaustive campaign against the forces of animal agribusiness, California voters sided with the idea that farm animals are deserving of our humane consideration and the protection of our laws, which is the position we and our allies championed.”
It’s true that the HSUS and its allies have been a driving force for changing how some farm animals are housed, as they wisely chose to take a legal approach to make government and agribusiness take notice.
In 2008, a California-based meat packer, Westland/Hallmark, was the subject of the largest meat recall in U.S. history up until that point. The company recalled 143 million pounds of meat. This recall was not initiated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), but the HSUS. A member of an HSUS ‘investigative team’ had hidden a camera in the button of his uniform and was employed at the plant. He filmed downer cows being abused. The abuse was not the only issue of concern – the video clearly showed that downer cows were entering the food supply, risking the transmission of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
Rather than focusing just on the abuse, the HSUS used food safety concerns to appeal to a Senate appropriation subcommittee on agriculture on the apparent lack of USDA inspections.
This recall, along with the Proposition 2 ballot initiatives, were game-changers for groups like the HSUS in moving their agendas forward. Food companies also took notice, and started to implement housing and welfare standards of their own.
As I’ve written in a previous column, these changes are for the most part not bad for industry and good for animals. But only when the changes are made within reasonable timeframes so that producers can remain profitable, consumers can still afford the products, and changes are backed by sound research.
What groups like the HSUS tend to forget is that perhaps what they think will make a farm animal happy, isn’t necessarily so. And more importantly, they don’t consider the chaos that could be caused by an initiative such as Proposition 12. The pork industry is highly integrated throughout North America, so having a requirement for one state will have a ripple effect throughout the whole value chain, as California produces little pork of its own.
That’s why the main bodies representing U.S. hog farmers, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation have challenged the law with U.S. Supreme Court, saying it is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate trade.
The Canadian Pork Council has also joined the challenge (for details see page 18), as many of our feeder pigs enter the U.S.
The entire North American swine industry is on edge, and will have to wait until at least next June for an answer on Prop 12.