Cooking bacon. Photo via Pexels

2022 is a year in which San Diegans and all Californians will be allowed to do less than the year before, as a number of new prohibitions kicked in on Jan. 1, all of them aggravating, but none so irksome as the limits imposed by Proposition 12. It gives new meaning to “bringing home the bacon,” because there will be much less of it in stores. 

A little more than three years ago, the voters, not lawmakers in Sacramento, passed Prop. 12, the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, by a large margin, 63-37. Now banned in California is the sale of veal from calves, pork from breeding pigs, and eggs from hens that don’t have enough living space.

Calves are required to have more than 43 square feet of usable floor space each, hens more than one square foot, and breeding pigs more than 24.

While several industries will be affected, the pork business will take a particularly hard punch. Here’s why: Californians consume roughly 15% of domestically produced pork — and almost all of it is imported from other states. That’s a sizeable market for producers to lose.

Consumers will lose out, as well. In July, the Los Angeles Times supposed that “Bacon may disappear in California as pig rules take effect.” Three months later, the Sacramento Bee was reporting about “potential price increases and shortages on California’s favorite pork products.”

Seaboard Foods, which identifies itself as “the nation’s second-biggest pig producer,” is warning that it “will limit sales of certain pork products in California due to” Prop. 12, according to the Farm Journal. An analysis from Rabobank, a food industry and agribusiness financial services provider, predicts supplies will fall by half, “leaving California with a severe pork deficit” and shoppers with higher grocery bills. 

We can also expect the price of veal and eggs to increase, though maybe not as steeply as pork. Proposition 2, an initiative passed in 2008 which says the hens that lay the eggs sold in California must be raised in conditions where they’re able to fully extend their wings and turn around freely, has already forced egg prices higher. ​​

A 2017 university study found “Californians may experience at least a $25 million annual welfare loss, a monetary measure of how a change affects quality of life” because of Prop 2.

The more than 7.5 million Californians who voted for Prop 12 also forced their beliefs on businesses and workers hundreds and thousands of miles beyond the state line. Under Prop. 12, meat and eggs produced in conditions outside of California that don’t comply with the law can’t be sold here.

With “less than 4% of U.S. sow housing” for pork “able to meet the new standard,” according to Rabobank, the California market virtually closed. Pork producers will have no choice but to sell their surplus in other states.

But that’s far short of ideal. It could crash the value of market hogs.

Of course producers can retool. But would doing so be worth the dollars they’d have to spend, which are likely to be significant?

A study put together by North Carolina State University agricultural economist Barry Goodwin “found construction costs alone for building a new 5,200-sow operation would be $15.6 million.” Simply “retrofitting existing barns would cost an average of $10 per pig,” which comes out to “$770 million for the industry’s 77 million sows.” 

These figures don’t even take in various compliance costs that the California Department of Food and Agriculture was still trying to determine late in 2021.

Goodwin also notes that “as is often the case” with “regulatory initiatives promoted by special interests,” Prop. 12 “may not be consistent with sound scientific evidence.” The confusion is real: When the measure was on the ballot, there was disagreement among animal welfare groups. Some supported it, others opposed.

Given how substantially Prop 12 will interfere with interstate commerce — it “reaches far outside of the state of California to impose regulations and restructure an industry that doesn’t exist in California,” says Michael Formica, general counsel for the National Pork Producers Council — it was inevitable that it would be challenged in court. 

So far, litigation hasn’t been successful. But opponents won’t give up. They’re determined to save California’s bacon.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.