Weekend Open Thread: CA’s Bacon Supply Isn’t Doomed

In our last Weekend Open Thread, oppositional commenter Phil di Basquette posted three comments (scroll down for them) linking (on the second try) to a Yahoo! News story warning of the an impending pork shortage (and accompanying, as night must follow day, price hikes) of our own making.

This turns out, unsurprisingly, to be a piece of “porkaganda.” So we’ll take it apart — nay, pull it apart — juicy piece by piece.

See, this is what happens to you if you get pregnant*!  (*At least if you are a pig on an Iowa farm.)

What’s the Basic Issue Here?

To recall why Californians voted for Proposition 12 — the 2018 Farm Animal Confinement Initiative barring some of the cruelest treatment of pigs, cows, chickens, and other farm animals — read this PDF from the American Humane Society.  Or, if you prefer, here’s the abstract:

Throughout nearly the entirety of their 112-115 day pregnancies, most breeding sows in the United States are confined in gestation crates (also known as sow stalls)—individual metal enclosures so restrictive that the pigs cannot turn around. Crated sows suffer a number of significant welfare problems, including elevated risk of urinary tract infections, weakened bones, overgrown hooves, lameness, behavioral restriction, and stereotypies. Due to concerns for the welfare of intensively confined sows, legislative, industry, and corporate policies are increasingly phasing out the use of gestation crates.

Similar issues may arise with calves and chickens, but this is about pork.

The AP Story Predicting Porkageddon

Our commenter Phil de Basquette found and seemed highly  impressed by a doomsaying AP story reprinted on Yahoo! News, which noted the impending deadline for which the regulations enacted in the referendum would go into effect. This led to hyperbolic (and clearly trade association corporate backed) responses like that of the story “Phil” found from two weeks ago, entitled: Bacon may disappear in California as pig rules take effect.”

The story’s dateline is Iowa — suggesting that impressing Iowans might be its actual purpose  — but its introduction and several photos and other paragraphs tell the tragic story of a San Francisco Market Street diner owner whose top-selling breakfast item includes … bacon!  She survived the (first year of the) Covid pandemic — but now she may be put out of business because of … cruelty-averse voters!

It is accompanied by a video — again, clearly contracted for by one or more trade associations — which somewhat to my amazement cannot be found at a URL anywhere or otherwise shared or embedded. This ticked me off, so I broke out my ancient screenshotting tools ans bring you the entire story here.

What the Mysterious Video Says

Here we go — a  ten-slide emotional show Ken Burns-style pan-and-slow-zoom story foretelling doom:

Notice that this introduction already backs off from the clickbait headline, from “bacon may disappear” to “might face a pork shortage.” They’re both equivocations, but only the latter is plausible.

This is true. It’s not going entirely “cruelty-free” — there’s still a slaughterhouse at the end of the rainbow — but animals will not be tortured as much on the way to meet their meat-product-maker. Where pigs are concerned, this largely involves giving pregnant sows enough space to do something other than simply standing in cage so narrow that they can’t turn around during their almost four-months-long pregnancies.

This is the crux of the argument: very few hog producers follow the requirements of the new law — which they’ll have known about for over three years when it goes into effect –and so California will lose almost all of its pork supply if producers don’t comply with the law.

This is where you may start to get a sense of how specious (fancy word for “stupid”) their argument is. We live in a market economy, governed by supply and demand. Those 4% of producers who comply with the law are going to make a mint. It may be enough for them to scale up their operations, or to buy and upgrade other operations. Or they may be joined by other producers who say “hey, there’s a lot of money to be made with a reasonably small investment in wider pens!”  Given demand, and the possibility of complying with that demand, supply will rise. (Yes, as supply rises, the amount of profits are reduced, but people still need to do this to keep up.)

This is basic market economics. This is why we didn’t see manufacturers stop producing cars altogether when we demanded seat belts, and airbags, and higher MPG ratings. There was still  huge money to be made. But we got better cars out of it by putting some demands on producers! (And by the way — California led the way on this!)

Yes, that’s why we’re able to change industry policy with our laws — and why enough pork producers will continue to deal with us despite our demands. We’re too big of a market to overlook — even if most pork product producers don’t immediately go along with it. Others will follow, in part because we’re going to show that it can be done and make people who don’t comply look really bad.

We could see a rise in compliant hog farms within our state if need be — again, it will happen if the money is there — but its not likely to have to happen. Outside providers aren’t going to turn down the chance to sell that extra 210 million pounds.

Imagine if the state government and school districts (purchasing for their cafeterias) granted their own contracts early next year to producers who could prove that they’re compliant.  That would reward people who took our law seriously — which is good!

Well, of course they say that it was too costly, just like car manufacturers said that they couldn’t feasibly install airbags!  But they could easily solve the problem on the cheap, losing the space for 1/3 of their hogs, just by eliminating 1 out of every three enclosures, which would more than comply with the act. as for the asserted lack of regulations — which may or may not be true, here’s section 4(e) of the act, at the highly instructive link:

(e) “Confined in a cruel manner” means any one of the following acts:
(1) Confining a covered animal in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs, or turning around freely; or
(2) After December 31, 2019, confining a calf raised for veal with less than 43 square feet of usable floor space per calf; or
(3) After December 31, 2021, confining a breeding pig with less than 24 square feet of usable floor space per pig; or

You don’t need the California Department of Food & Agriculture to have issued regulations to know that you have change your housing of breeding pigs from 20 to 24 square feet, in a way consistent with the requirement of (4)(d)(1). if you want to do business in California. It could not be more clear.  If a producer truly doesn’t understand whether a given approach is acceptable, they’ve presumably asked the Cal DFA about it, right? But I doubt that many willing to comply haven’t acted with that good faith.

Note also that if they didn’t act because of the high cost of compliance, then it doesn’t matter what the regulations (which supplement the text of the enactment) would be, because they did not intend to comply. If they did intend to comply, but were concerned about the high cost, then that’s unfortunate for them — but someone else is likely to find it affordable.

 

The price of bacon “could” rise 60%?  That’s their doomsday scenario from their own selected source?  Doesn’t seem that convincing — and it would be less likely to be true for restaurants (who buy their pork products wholesale rather than retail) that for home cooks. Remember, even if the price of the hog doubles due to the increased costs of housing it, that only one part of the overall cost of selling the pork product. The cost of the services of the slaughterhouse don’t change. The cost of packaging doesn’t change. The cost of transportation doesn’t change. The costs added on by the supermarket (e.g., for storage and labor) don’t change. The costs of marketing don’t change. So I’d need to see this supposed study, but I’m guessing that it’s as wrong as those that said that hiking the minimum wage 50% would increase the costs of burgers by 50%” it overlooks most of the actual costs (which for fast food restaurants were just pennies per burger.

So let’s think this through — which is a little hard to do because in their video they never actually show a photo of the conditions in which pigs are currently held, which seems like a pretty serious oversignt. (I got the featured photo from the web, and those are in no way 20 feet.)The temptation. looking at the photo at the top, is to say that 20 (square, which they left out) feet meats 4′ wide x 5′ long and 24 means 4′ wide vs. 6′ long. But that doesn’t seem right, because adding a foot of length shouldn’t matter for turning around; it’s the width that’s the problem.

The square root of 24 is almost exactly 4.8989795, so that’s the minimum width that a pig would need to turn around if they were spherical.  The square root of 20 — apparently not enough for the pigs to turn around, is 4.472 — so it must require more room than that. It seems to me that the crates are most likely 4 feet long, and California is saying that they need to be 6 feet wide, although 4.5 feet long and 5-1/3 feet wide is another possibility.Not that huge of a change, if the pork people are telling the truth!

Here’s the sole image in the video on Yahoo! News that comes anywhere close to showing how the pigs live, although they don’t seem to be caged — let’s see if it sheds any light on thing:

This is just a guess, but I think that perhaps the crates used in Iowa are 4×4 (16 sq’) or 4×4.5 (18/sq’), but that they count the feeding trough you see past the end of the cage as part of the cage area, which is likely not what the voters intended, because it wouldn’t likely fit the other requirements in that section of law.

 

(And the Supreme refused to grant cert to an appeal, they don’t tell you.)

Well, Larry Elder would probably do what they want, so maybe that’s another thing on the recall ballot. All I can say is that a request to delay regulations for a law with explicit terms that will have passed more than three years at the time that this provision is supposed to go into effect might only make sense if there has been substantial compliance toward meeting the statutory language — and as it sure seems like there hasn’t been, that’s just too bad. As for meat in the supply chain still being usable, this simply invites them to export as much more ethically meat to us as they can — and that’s a bad incentive.  The non-compliant ones will find somewhere else to sell it; the compliant ones don’t need to worry.

Below you’ll find the permitted 3-4 paragraphs of text from the AP story that set this post into motion:

Bacon may disappear in California as pig rules take effect

·6 min read
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) —

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.

Animal welfare organizations for years have been pushing for more humane treatment of farm animals but the California rules could be a rare case of consumers clearly paying a price for their beliefs.

With little time left to build new facilities, inseminate sows and process the offspring by January, it’s hard to see how the pork industry can adequately supply California, which consumes roughly 15% of all pork produced in the country.

“We are very concerned about the potential supply impacts and therefore cost increases,” said Matt Sutton, the public policy director for the California Restaurant Association.

 

Associated Press writers David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, and Stephen Groves in Alvord, Iowa, contributed to this story.

Follow Scott McFetridge on Twitter: https://twitter.com/smcfetridge

Seems shoddy to me. They had three years to get ready, and if California already produces 4% of its own pork, we only need 11% more from the other 96% of the producers.  If even 10% of the producers decide to dig in to the juicy California market,  California will not lose almost all of its pork supply — even though spooking those from cultures which rely on pork is probably a good — if cruel, appropriately enough — way to rouse public pressure against these legally enacted rules. I didn’t know that the Associated Press was in the business of doing that — but I guess they need their own time at the trough.

This is your Weekend Open Thread. Talk about that or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds, including enough room to turn around and stretch your limbs.

 


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About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)