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In just five months, California may well be the first state in America that effectively bans any pork products. This is because, back in 2018, voters approved an animal welfare proposition setting out space requirements standards for those who breed pigs, egg-laying chickens, and veal calves. While chicken farmers and veal producers across America have mostly met those standards, it seems the hog farmers have had a harder time. This is an interesting story because it touches upon the laws of unintended consequences and the effect a state like California has on the rest of America.
The story comes from the Associated Press:
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.
It turns out that it’s a great deal more difficult to meet California’s demands when you’re a hog farmer than when you have farms that produce eggs or veal:
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.
Additionally, the new law doesn’t just apply to living animals. It applies to the dead as well:
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.
In 2018, Californians undoubtedly patted themselves on the back for their humanitarianism. As the article explains, though, the unintended consequences are huge.
It turns out that California “consumes roughly 15% of all pork produced in the country.” If pork producers are suddenly deprived of their California customers, they’ll have to raise prices elsewhere to offset that loss – especially if they want to pay for the upgrades that will allow them once again to enter the California market:
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 pigs.
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.
Californians are going to be suffering mightily too. The AP article opens with the plight of Jeannie Kim, who managed, just barely, to keep her San Francisco-based breakfast-oriented diner open throughout all the lockdowns. However, losing bacon may mean losing the restaurant:
“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.”
It’s not just Ms. Kim who’ll suffer. California’s massive pork consumption isn’t solely because it’s the most populous state in America. California also has the largest Hispanic and Asian populations. Both these ethnic groups – and this is true regardless of the many variations within those populations – rely heavily on pork products in their diets.
In a perfect world, perhaps we’d all be vegetarians. But ours is not a perfect world. In the real world, meat is an important source of concentrated proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Meat is also delicious. No matter how much Democrat publications rhapsodize about grilled cicada, most people are going to prefer barbecued pork. (Of course, Orthodox Jews can’t eat either and devout Muslims can’t eat pork, but these are self-imposed restrictions.)
Many years ago, I read an editorial noting that animals do not have existential anxiety. They can experience fear and pain, and they have a will to live, but they don’t stand around in the barnyard contemplating death. The trick, said the article, is that we should try to eat only animals that lived decently and died with a minimum amount of pain and stress.
I agree but, as always, California’s going about it the wrong way. This change should be organic, coming from the people and driving the marketplace, rather than a single state’s mandate that destroys businesses, wipes out a major part of people’s diets, and negatively affects the whole of the United States.