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Bacon may be disappearing from California restaurants. Animal welfare advocates have long called for better treatment of farm animals, who historically suffer poor conditions leading up to slaughter. In fact, earlier propositions passed tried to improve conditions but vague language resulted in minimal real-world changes. That’s why in 2018, California voted for more space for animals, specifying down to the square foot. Sounds simple and right by the animals, but the law fails to account for feasibility. With months until the law is fully enacted, only 4% of hog operations would be in compliance.
Why? Well, meeting the new requirement would cost farmers 15% more per pig. One Iowa farmer, who supplies pork to California, says this translates to needing $20 more per animal, but processors who purchase from him won’t pay more to help offset the burden. This is a problem we’ve seen play out for cattle farmers as well. The National Pork Producers Council has asked for federal aid to fill the gap, but so far it seems the burden will fall on California consumers. Without help, farmers won’t be able to sell to California, leaving the state with a shortage which may shoot bacon prices up 60%, an increase restaurant owners fear will remove bacon from their menus altogether.
Though California isn’t the first to enforce farm animal welfare. Massachusetts citizens passed a similar law in 2016, which state legislatures later approved with even more votes than in California. But since the Massachusetts bill was not specific, most hog farmers continued operations as usual — though it still caused controversy. Overall, it’s hard to determine what the future of these state laws look like when supply chains and distribution are national. While unsuccessful, many states combated the Massachusetts bill with lawsuits, claiming it was unlawful for them to dictate how other states choose to regulate business operations.