Jamee Eggers, Swine Insights International
Proposition 12 in California has been dominating agriculture media, and to some degree national media headlines since the May 11th2023 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the law approved by California voters via ballot initiative in 2018. A simple Google search today will return over 15 pages of search results, many of them news articles on both sides of the issue. Discussions on Prop 12, along with the current poor market conditions, were the most frequent conversations I had at the World Pork Expo this year.
Don’t separate the life you live from the words you use
Many are asking, “What does the pork industry as a whole do now regarding Prop 12?”. Legal opinions, supporting active litigation, introducing new litigation, legislative action, and consumer messaging are all options on the table. All these options will be important moving forward to prevent further overreaching state action, like Prop 12, that infringes on livestock producers’ freedom to operate, from becoming law in other states. I haven’t written this blog as a discussion of those approaches nor an endorsement for any particular next step or strategy. I have faith in the producer and staff leaders at their respective industry organizations to fight for the producers they represent. This blog is about the process for certification for producers who are considering, or already have, sows in Prop 12 compliant housing.
I would hate for anyone to misunderstand this blog as an endorsement of Prop 12; it is absolutely NOT that. I have been feeling the same level of frustration and discomfort around this topic as pork producers as I dig into the regulations and get familiar with the certification process. At times, the regulations feel just plain absurd and as an animal scientist, technically trained in animal welfare, it shakes me to my core to hear Prop 12 called “an animal welfare program”. It is not. In fact, the housing requirements of Prop 12 can produce additional welfare challenges for sows and remove producer’s ability to effectively manage the welfare outcomes of the sows in a way that works for their farm and animals.
The inflammatory language in the code also frustrates me so greatly that I refuse to do outright quoting of the code and will refer to everything only as “non-compliant housing”. I have started many Prop 12 conversations with, “Portions of this are going to feel absurd and impractical; set your expectations there and we can probably get through this.” I ask you to set your expectations there now.
Regulatory Authority and Important Dates
The regulatory authority for Prop 12 is the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), specifically the animal care program. They wrote the rules for veal, eggs, and pork covered under Prop 12 and handle the certification of producers and distributors of those products. Even though Prop 12 was passed by California voters in 2018, the rules for fresh pork compliance were not completed until September of last year and were set to be effective January 1st of 2023. The application and implementation of the fresh pork rules were delayed due to an injunction hinging on the outcome of the SCOTUS decision.
Now that the SCOTUS has weighed in, that injunction is set to expire, and enforcement begin on July 1, 2023. This means pork producers and distributors will need to certify their compliance by January 1, 2024. California Department of Food and Agriculture has stated many times that they will “focus the next six months on outreach and education, not specifically on enforcement”. I expect the focus to change after January 1, 2024.
I Have Sows in Compliant Housing; What Do I Do Now?
If you have sows in compliant housing, you will need to find a certifying agent (aka auditor) who can come to your farm and perform your certification. Producers are responsible for the cost of the certification and will need to be recertified annually. Certifying agents are companies and/or individuals approved by CDFA to do Prop 12 certifications. You can find the list of certifying agents here.
Hiring an auditor is a new experience for many pork producers and can certainly feel uncomfortable. For producers that have participated in 3rdparty auditing on their farm, the auditor was usually hired by the packer and sent to the farm. As such, the relationship isn’t one producers have built. I encourage producers to treat this new relationship as they do with any new partnership in their business – build it with the same core values important to them and their business.
Look through the list of certifying agents and contact the companies of interest. Inquire about the process, their approach, their auditors, cost, and availability. You don’t have to hire the first one you talk to, make sure it is a relationship that fits your business. I want producers to rest assured that the current list of certifying agents contains reputable auditing companies familiar with swine production, have rigorous training programs for auditors, and their auditors all have livestock experience. The CDFA requires auditor certification, training, and experience as part of the approval process for certifying agents.
Many, if not all, of the auditors have auditing certifications through the Professional Animal Auditors Certification Organization (PAACO), meaning they have received robust training on auditor ethics and conduct, passed an examination, and performed shadow audits under the supervision of an experienced auditor. These are not random individuals, void of livestock experience, that will be coming to your farm.
Certification of Prop 12 facilities is by sow farm site producing compliant product. This means each Prop 12 sow farm needs to be inspected, there is not one certification for a production system. The on-farm portion is a review of two things:
1. Verification that sows in compliant housing have 24 square feet per sow and can turn around freely without touching the sides of the encosure or another animal.
2. Review of documentation – this includes documentation that they aren’t kept in non-compliant housing longer than allowed or if they are in non-compliant housing longer than allowed, documentation of the treatment plan/reason.
For producers that have had a PQA Plus Site Assessment, Common Swine Industry Audit, or other welfare program audit on their farm, a Prop 12 certification visit is far less involved and contains fewer questions. Each certifying agent will share their expectations and what they need from the farm prior to the visit, but in general, producers should be prepared with:
1. A basic schematic/drawing of the farm showing the size of the enclosures and number of animals in them so that the auditor can verify the square footage.
2. Proof of their Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR)
3. Be able to show documentation (electronic, paper, or a combination) for time in non-compliant housing, heat checking, breeding, and pregnancy confirmation procedures (if done in non-compliant housing) and treatment SOPs, etc.
California Department of Food and Agriculture has prepared some producer resources on their Animal Care Program website to help producers understand certification, including diagrams on calculating usable floor space in various feeding arrangements. They are also hosting a webinar for producers on June 27th at 11 am Pacific time. You can access those resources and sign up for webinar here.
I Don’t Have Sows in Prop 12 Compliant Housing, but I’m Thinking About It…
One thing I haven’t touched on is what to do for producers that are considering moving their farm to Prop 12 compliant housing. There is much to consider in that decision. Can existing facilities be remodeled? What about simply reducing the number of sows already in pen gestation? How will this affect breed groups? Several people have called Prop 12 an “unfunded mandate”, which I find to be quite accurate when producers start to examine the costs and efficiency aspects of changing existing farms. The team at Swine Insights International are well equipped to help producers examine all aspects of a farm conversion and help decide if it makes sense for that business.
The Path Forward is Paved with People Willing to Help
While there is still much uncertainty around Prop 12 going forward, I hope this has helped make a few things clearer regarding the certification process for the regulations currently in place. Even though I wrote it earlier in this blog, I tend to think “it is what it is” is a little overused and a better approach is to say “right now, it’s like this.” That gives a nod to the fact that the current situation isn’t the best, but that’s only right now; it can change. One way we can assuage our discomfort around Prop 12 is to learn more about the certification process. The Swine Insights International team is here to help and answer any Prop 12 questions you may have. If you have any questions about Prop 12, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you with the resources and direction you need.
Editorial Note: After this blog post was written but before it was published, a Court in California amended a previous order that effectively extended the enforcement date until December 31, 2023 for noncompliant meat in inventory as of July 1, 2023. We don’t believe this ruling materially impacts the information in the blog post as it is directed at producers, not meat distributors. We continue to recommend that producers who intend to certify what they believe to be compliant housing to seek that certification as soon as possible to avoid the rush to get certified at the last minute and also to allow time to resolve any problems identified in the certification process.
About the Author: Jamee Eggers is a Consultant with Swine Insights International. She has more than 20 years of experience working in regulatory and industry affairs, animal health and wellbeing programs across a variety of species, meat quality and safety, scientific research and emergency management. Jamee is the Founder and President of Rafter J Consulting, LLC a consulting company specializing in strategic solutions for livestock and food producers. She joined the Swine Insights team in June of 2023 and began serving Swine Insights clients and collaborating with the Swine Insights team in addition to her own roster of clients. Visit swineinsights.com to learn more about Jamee and all of the services Swine Insights provides.