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Full repeal of California’s Prop 12 is urgently needed

By BRIAN DUNCAN
Illinois Farm Bureau President

     A lot has changed on our Ogle County farm since I first started helping my dad take care of the pigs over 50 years ago. Gone are the open sheds and large pens for our pigs of multiple sizes and ages, pens where they were exposed to the weather as well as disease.

     On my farm and others around Illinois, outdoor facilities have been replaced with protective indoor, climate-controlled housing with modern waste management systems providing a cleaner, safer environment for animals and caretakers. Behind every pig stands a person. Livestock farmers spend countless hours in all conditions, ensuring the security and well-being of their animals.

     We adopt scientifically-backed, veterinary-approved, animal care and husbandry practices with the best interest of the animals and those of us who care for them in mind. Like other producers, I am troubled that people without animal care experience or expertise can dictate the practices that must be used on livestock farms.

     In 2018, a proportionately small number of Californians passed a ballot initiative, known as Proposition 12, restricting the sale of eggs, veal and certain cuts of pork that were produced in a manner that did not meet the standards outlined in the initiative. Consequently, uncooked or unblended pork products must come from animals who are the offspring of sows given 24 square feet of floor space upon reaching reproductive age.

     Various vet-approved solutions are used for housing breeding females in modern pork production, including grouping sows. Yet Prop 12’s arbitrary requirement of 24 square feet per sow can increase the opportunity for the animal to engage in aggressive and sometimes violent behavior, risking injuries to themselves, their pen mates, and their caretakers.

     American Farm Bureau Federation, along with the National Pork Producers Council, challenged the law’s constitutionality as a violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause. We were greatly disappointed last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a narrowly split decision, declared the initiative to be constitutional.

     With the law’s enactment on January 1, pig farmers are now uncertain if they will make massive infrastructure investments to comply with California’s arbitrary animal welfare standards which could be subject to change with future ballot initiatives. Ultimately, Proposition 12 not only violates the principles of interstate commerce but also undermines food access and affordability.

     No one understands these concerns better than USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Vilsack told U.S. House Ag Committee members during a recent hearing that “there’s nothing preventing any state from doing what California did (with Prop 12),” and if Congress doesn’t “take this seriously, we’re going to have chaos in the marketplace.”

     That “chaos” from Prop 12 will hit fixed- and low-income consumers the hardest, as the law is expected to severely reduce the affordability of high-quality protein. In fact, prices for certain pork products in California have risen as much as 41% since Prop 12’s implementation, according to a USDA study.

     State regulations like Prop 12 shouldn’t dictate commerce or agriculture production in other states. Prop 12 endangers the financial health of livestock producers, and smaller farms especially might be forced out of business due to high compliance renovation costs and lack of long-term incentives. This could lead to more consolidation in the industry. Processors also face challenges due to uncertain demand and higher costs to trace and segregate products for Prop 12 compliance.

     California’s market is too big to ignore. Nearly 15% of the pork consumed in this country is eaten in California, and future demand prospects could be significant there as well. Proposition 12 also serves as a template that ultimately could be used to regulate all sectors of agriculture. Standards could be placed around labor rate, crop inputs used, or certain production methods that could ultimately create chaos in the agriculture space. The risk of disruption increases if more states adopt individual agricultural standards creating an un-navitable patchwork of regulations.

     I support any farmer’s decision to comply with Prop 12, but advise caution with the uncertainty of further regulatory changes, such as Massachusetts’ Question 3.

     A full repeal of Prop 12 is urgently needed. The Supreme Court has called on Congress for a legislative solution. Farm Bureau continues to advocate for one as well. Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Pork Producers Association, and state commodity group partners recently sent a letter to the Illinois congressional delegation outlining concerns with Prop 12 and calling for a legislative fix in the next farm bill.

     Most vital to addressing Prop 12 is continued collaboration, bipartisan relationships, and speaking as the unified voice of Illinois agriculture. Illinois producers can trust there’s a grassroots organization committed to protecting the economic well-being of their businesses, just as consumers can trust the family farmer behind every pig.

 This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.

 

 

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