Small Farmers Get Frustrated Due to Delayed Pig Welfare Rules in California

A hog farmer in Ohio, Joe Brandt changed his business practices a few years ago to offer his pigs more space and keep pregnant sows out of the used, cramped crates.

Brandt claimed he wanted to treat his pigs more compassionately. Still, in doing so, he also carved out a market for his family business amid growing animal rights concerns, allowing him to charge more for the pigs.

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The January 2022 implementation of a California ballot initiative that mandated that all pork sold in the state adhere to the rules Brandt had already adopted but that are infrequently observed in large hog farms seemed to indicate that the payback will likely grow much more significant. With such legislation, a 39 million-person state that uses 13% of the nation’s pork supply would suddenly depend entirely on Brandt and other farmers like him for bacon and pork chops.

But it hasn’t, for reasons that Brandt cannot control. The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a case brought by a national pork industry group that opposes the regulations. California has yet to write and approve the necessary rules entirely, a state judge has blocked enforcement of the law due to that regulatory delay, and the regulations are opposed. Brandt questions whether he will ever experience the spike in the demand he anticipated when the measure was unanimously approved by California voters in 2018. Given all the delays.

Brandt, who keeps a herd of roughly 1,500 sows on his farm near Versailles, Ohio, said, “It would help.” “It comes down to positioning yourself. If you see something and you’re progressive, and you work toward it and believe in it, I think if a measure like this does pass, you should be rewarded for it.”

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Brandt is one of the hundreds of relatively small farmers stuck in the middle of the National Pork Producers Council, based in Iowa, and the state of California, which represents the most extensive pig operations in the country, mainly in the Midwest and North Carolina.

By interfering with a nationwide system in which approximately 65,000 farmers raise 125 million hogs yearly generating gross sales of $26 billion, the question of whether California’s Proposition 12 violates the U.S. Constitution is at stake. Pork sales in California would be prohibited unless the pigs were bred on sows with a minimum of 24 square feet of room and the capacity to turn around.

The National Pork Farmers Council and American Farm Bureau Federation contend that California’s law violates the Constitution’s commerce clause because it upends the country’s pork industry and forces producers outside the state to bear almost all of the costs of compliance.

The national associations requested that the U.S. Supreme Court consider their case after losing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. October will likely see disagreements.

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The nation’s pork producers would be free to carry on with their current procedures, including the use of so-called gestation boxes that shield sows from other pigs but prohibit them from turning around if the Supreme Court rules that California’s regulation is unconstitutional. Other provisions of the California law, which regulates how veal cattle and egg-laying poultry are treated, may be put into effect.

A Massachusetts sow welfare law was put on hold by a court on August 11 while the Supreme Court case was still underway.

Jared Schilling, whose family restructured their farm to provide pigs more space, said they intended to gain a competitive edge. His family raises roughly 40,000 sows a year close to New Athens, Illinois. The decision has paid off; he receives premium pricing when selling his animals to Coleman Natural Foods, a company that specialises in pork. Coleman is another client of Brandt’s.

Schilling, though, asserted that the Massachusetts and California rules implementation would probably result in higher earnings.

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