California restaurants and grocers sue over new pork law


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A plate of bacon on the kitchen table at the Ron Mardesen Farm near Elliott, Iowa. A 2018 voter-approved California ballot measure that went into effect Jan. 1 established the nation’s toughest living space standards for breeding pigs. Critics have called for delaying enforcement until 2024 for fear prices will rise and jobs will be lost. Mardesen already meets California standards for the pigs it sells to specialty meat company Niman Ranch, which backed the passage of Proposition 12 and requires all of its roughly 650 pig farmers to give breeding pigs significantly more room. than required by law.

AP file

Recent fears about potential pork shortages and massive price increases are non-theatre. On November 10, the California Grocers Association, California Restaurant Association, California Retailers Association, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and a family processor filed a lawsuit seeking a delay in the implementation of California’s Proposition 12 , which added new requirements for how pork eaten in California is raised, even if it’s raised out of state.

The lawsuit was necessary because entire California industries throughout the food supply chain aren’t sure how they’re supposed to comply with the new law that hit Jan. 1.

Grocers, retailers, restaurants and home processors are all scratching their heads, wondering how they will sell Prop-compliant pork. 12 this year. The problem is that the state still hasn’t finalized the rules and regulations that all industry players need to comply and demonstrate that all pork they buy or sell was raised according to the new requirements. With 98% of pork coming from out of state, in-state pork suppliers have no way of proving on their own that the pork was raised according to Proposition 12.

Jot Condi, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association. Contributed

They must be able to rely on a certification system approved by the State. But, under the new draft regulations just published by the State, this certification system is still two years away from being in place. Under Proposition 12, the state was required to complete these rules by September 1, 2019. This would have given the food industry 28 months to implement required changes, such as new labeling and ensure that all out-of-state pork was shipped with valid certificates. Now, with no rules in place on how to label and certify pork, the food industry has no idea how to supply California with pork in 2022.

COVID-19 may have delayed the release of regulations, and perhaps Prop. 12 should have given California more time to draft new regulations, such as Prop. 2 did it for the egg industry. Either way, the state’s delay will confuse California businesses and consumers.

Ronald Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association. Contributed

The state has failed in its fundamental responsibility to provide the framework for legal compliance with Prop. 12 and implement the necessary certification system, leaving this group no choice but to seek redress through the courts. In Massachusetts, where a similar animal housing measure passed in 2016, their state Assembly equivalent voted overwhelmingly to extend the implementation deadline to allow regulators to finish the rules and the market to abide by them. The delay is expected to be finalized after conferences with the state Senate are complete.

This is not the case in the Golden State, and without legal action, an entire industry that tens of thousands of California businesses rely on will be unnecessarily bottlenecked. It’s the equivalent of posting a speed limit sign without telling drivers what the limit is.

More worryingly, it will be California families and small businesses that will feel the impact the most. Californians are already reeling from inflation caused by supply chain disruptions, including on their favorite pork products, and confusion over the implementation of Prop. 12 will only make things worse.

The bottom line is that the state has no regulations in place, let alone the complex system of certifying the operations of pork farms and distributors nationwide that the proposed regulations envision. This puts pork suppliers in an untenable position and consumers will unfortunately pay the price for this uncertainty at a time when they are already struggling.

Now only the courts can prevent the impending impacts of what has been called “Bacongate”.

Jot Condie is president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association. Ronald Fong is president and CEO of the California Grocers Association.

This story was originally published January 19, 2022 10:56 a.m.

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