The reverberations of California’s Prop 12, a 2018 animal welfare law, are creating ripples in the North American hog market, leaving Manitoba Pork and other stakeholders facing uncertainty. The law, effective from January 1, 2024, mandates that meat and eggs sold in California comply with the state’s stringent welfare regulations, impacting space allotments for sows.
Although Prop 12’s full enforcement began on New Year’s Day, its effects have been unfolding since July, prompting concerns among Canadian pork producers. General Manager Cam Dahl notes that the impact is evident in indicators such as price trends for piglets, a significant market for Manitoba, which annually exports millions of piglets to the U.S.
Dahl emphasizes his worry about the potential fragmentation of the North American marketplace, foreseeing adverse effects on both farmers and consumers. The concern stems from the law’s potential to yield lower returns for farmers and higher prices for consumers. The implications of Prop 12 challenge the integrity of the trade agreement between Canada and the U.S., emphasizing the importance of consistent sanitary and phytosanitary conditions.
In the U.S., opposition to Prop 12 is not uniform. The National Pork Producers Council mounted a legal challenge that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the law in May of the previous year. A Washington State think tank, the Washington Policy Center Initiative on Agriculture (WPCIA), predicts that compliance costs could lead to a reduction in the U.S. national hog herd and industry consolidation.
The WPCIA estimates retrofitting facilities to Prop 12-compliant standards would cost approximately $3,500 per sow, posing a significant financial burden on smaller farms. This financial strain may force some to sell to larger farms, a trend that has long been a concern within the meat production industry.
The impact on pork prices remains uncertain, with the WPCIA suggesting that consumers will bear the brunt as supply constricts and compliance costs become apparent. Manitoba’s pork industry finds itself in a holding pattern, with stakeholders awaiting further developments and economic signals.
Bill Alford, President of Headingly-based H@Ms Marketing Services, emphasizes the challenges posed by uncertainty, noting the industry’s efforts to rebalance supply with demand alongside the unpredictability introduced by Prop 12.
The overarching concern is the lack of a scientific foundation for regulations like Prop 12, which creates an environment of uncertainty for producers. Dahl highlights the impracticality of investing significant funds in barn refurbishments only to face shifting regulatory goalposts in the future.
As Manitoba’s pork industry navigates these uncertain times, the key challenge lies in balancing compliance with regulatory demands while ensuring economic viability for producers in the long term.