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California is late with rules for Prop 12, ‘world’s strongest’ animal welfare law

More than three years ago, California voters approved Proposition 12, guaranteeing sows, veal calves, and egg-laying hens more room to move about and barring the sale of eggs, veal, and pork from farms, even in other states, that do not comply with the new standards. The law went into effect on Sunday, although state officials were still working on a final set of regulations.

“We don’t know what to expect,” said a meat industry spokeswoman ahead of the weekend implementation. “A few companies have announced they will pull certain products from California markets.”

Lawmakers in Massachusetts, worried about potential pork shortages, decided in December to delay until August 15 a similar set of rules for hog farms and sale of pork products in their state.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture said it lacked authority to delay the compliance deadline. Its Animal Care Program (ACP), created to implement Prop 12, said on December 23 it was “focused on helping stakeholders meet the deadlines outlined in Proposition 12, including the requirements for egg-laying hens and breeding pigs that go into effect January 1, 2022.”

Eggs and pork already in inventory or commerce before the end of 2021 “will still be legal to sell in California,” said the ACP, thereby buffering the transition to the new rules. The ACP sent reminders to grocers, restaurants, and foodmakers in September, stressing that “it is your responsibility to only source Prop 12-compliant shell eggs, liquid eggs, veal, and pork meat for commercial sale in California.”

Estimates of the impact on consumers vary, from increased pork costs of $10 per person per year to a 60% increase in prices if half as much pork as usual were available. Prop 12 requires hog farmers to provide 24 square feet of space for each of their sows, except for a few days before they give birth and for three weeks afterward, until their piglets are weaned. Almost all of the pork sold in California is raised in other states.

The Supreme Court could decide this week whether to hear a challenge to Prop 12 by two farm groups, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council, who lost at the district and appellate court levels. The groups contend that Prop 12 is an unconstitutional burden on farmers and consumers throughout the United States. Justices were due to discuss the challenge during a conference on Friday, said DTN/Progressive Farmer.

Farm groups and the meat industry have tried repeatedly to derail Prop 12 in court. The Supreme Court refused on June 28 to hear a meat industry challenge. “Proposition 12 is the strongest law in the world addressing farm animal confinement,” said the Humane Society of the United States.

Sunday also was the mandatory compliance date for the federal 2016 GMO food labeling law, which requires packages to disclose whether genetically engineered foods are among the ingredients. Companies can print a statement on the package, use a symbol to denote “bioengineered” contents, provide the information via a QR code, or direct consumers to a website or telephone number. A can of tomato soup, for instance, would declare, “Contains a bioengineered food ingredient,” and would specify that GE sugar was an ingredient. A yogurt maker put the words “Contains Bioengineered Food Ingredients” beneath the list of ingredients.

The majority of foods containing GMOs will escape labeling, says the Center for Food Safety, which has sued the USDA over the regulations. Consumers will not be able to easily identify GMO foods if packages rely on QR codes or USDA-approved symbols, said the consumer group, which also objected to describing the foods as “bioengineered” when they are better known as GMOs.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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