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Canadian bacon is not immune to California farming laws

Bacon may become as rare as hen’s teeth in California – which consumes about 15 per cent per cent of all the bacon in the U.S. – if a proposed new law there kicks in next year. And the ripple effect could be significant for huge pork exporting nations like Canada.

Back in 2018, California voters voted yes on a proposition to give more floor space in barns to breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal calves. The law, yet to be enacted, would apply to pork coming into the state too, mostly from the Midwest U.S. (California produces about one-fifth of the pork it consumes; the vast majority is raised in other states).

Producers from everywhere who raise pigs and sell them into the California market would need raise their animals compliantly.

Now, a bit more room doesn’t sound like a bad idea, much less a big deal.

But the specifics of the proposition, put forward by animal rightists, are purposefully aimed at making it unprofitable for commercial farmers to raise pigs. It would require farmers to provide 24-square-foot group pens for the animals.

That’s just four square feet more than they currently get on almost all farms there… provided they’re not in farrowing pens, which give them nearly no room to move.

But the cost is huge. Farmers make very little income from pigs, which is reflected in the comparatively cheap price of pork in grocery stores. So when they see farmers in pork-producing states like Iowa (which raise about one-third of the nation’s hogs) estimate their costs would rise by 15 per cent, and that they’d need to earn an extra $20 per hog to accommodate the change, they hit the roof.

The Associated Press (AP) news service interviewed an Iowa farmer who said he’d have to fork over $3 million to accommodate 250 pigs in a space that now holds 300. More so, he said he was concerned about the slippery slope of such legislation. For example, what happens when animal rightists no longer consider 24-square-foot pens adequate? Will farmers have to make more changes? Where does it end?

This is a strategic move by activists. If the law gets enacted, which could happen early next year, the amount of bacon shipped into California could be severely curtailed. That means one of the biggest pork markets anywhere would die.

And so would a lot fewer pigs, which is what livestock opponents want.

Meanwhile, though, what happens in the neighbour to the north, Canada? Given the global movement of food, very little takes place in isolation these days. Big commercial pork production from the Midwest that gets shut out of California must go somewhere. Maybe it could be shipped overseas. But Canada is much handier and less regulated than Europe or some other foreign destinations.

Canada would stand to become a dumping ground for low-price pork, competing with homegrown production. It could get ugly.

It appears that unless court challenges by producers succeed, or California temporarily allows non-compliant meat to be sold in the state, this is a done deal.

This will be a culture change for California. Bacon, eggs and hash browns are the number one item on many breakfast menus. Pork is hugely popular with the state’s Asian and Hispanic population. An emotional response is expected to all this, along with some legal manoeuvring.

As AP reported, 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.

But the future is clear. Production – and not just of pigs – will need to change. It used to be driven by costs and efficiencies. Now, there’s so much more to consider, as pork producers have found out.

A little more local for your inbox.

Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
won't find anywhere else. Stay caught up with The Observer This Week.

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