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In-Depth: Cost of breakfast about to rise across California

Prop. 12 takes effect Jan. 1
Posted at 6:15 AM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 10:47:15-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Proposition 12 takes effect across California on Jan. 1, bringing strict, new guidelines on how farm animals are cared for.

The law, which voters approved in 2018 by a 63-37% margin, requires farms in California to keep egg-laying hens in cage-free housing systems. It also bans the confinement of breeding pigs in areas with less than 24 square feet of usable floor space per pig. Confinement areas for calves and lambs must be a minimum of 43 square feet per animal.

"It's really a common-sense law that ensures that these animals have enough space that they can move around," says Kara Shannon, the Director of Farm Animal Welfare Policy for the ASPCA.

"This law will improve the lives of millions of farm animals."

Shannon says it will also improve farm workers' lives by keeping them out of potentially hazardous conditions created by overcrowded animal confinements. She says it will also reduce pollutants from farms and make the animal products safer to eat because there will be less risk of food-borne illnesses.

But the new law comes at a cost, as Prop. 12 also bans grocery stores from selling animal products from farms that don't comply with the new space rules. That means egg and pork producers across the country will have to upgrade their confinement spaces.

"This will cost the average family farm $15-17 million," says Michael Formica, the General Counsel for the National Pork Producers Council. "We believe it's entirely unconstitutional."

The NPPC has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, saying one state cannot impose costly regulations on other states. A similar challenge to the law was shot down by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. In January, the Supreme Court will decide if they'll hear the case in their upcoming session.

California imports nearly 99% of all its bacon and pork products each year. Formica says the new law could lead to bacon shortages or price hikes.

"I would ask Californians, 'When this ballot initiative came up, did people realize they were going to lose access to bacon?'" Formica says. "You're replacing a basic commodity with a gourmet product, and people just need to eat."

The NPPC cites a study from June that says pork products could cost as much as 60% more in parts of the state, depending on how supply and demand shake out from the new law.

But the ASPCA argues the actual cost of the new law will be around $50 per year for an average family.

"$50 is not nothing," says Shannon. "A lot of people are struggling at the moment. But I think it's a lot less than the industry would have you believe."

Prop. 12 could also impact the cost of food at restaurants. Formica says they'll have to pay more for ingredients to many staple dishes and will pass those costs onto customers.

"It affects not just bacon," he says. "It affects all of your whole pork products. All the pork carnitas, all of the small restaurants serving them, they're all going to run into a lot of these troubles as well."

Thirteen other states have similar laws, although Prop. 12 would give California some of the strictest in the nation. Shannon says prices will come back down as more states pass their own rules and more farms upgrade.

"Companies have known that Proposition 12 was coming for three years," Shannon says. "The egg industry has done a better job at implementing changes. But, in particular, the pork industry has really dragged its feet on implementing this and getting pigs out of cages."

Meanwhile, the "Farm System Reform Act" in Congress could also help. There is a provision in the bill to give money to farms to upgrade their confinement areas.

"The farm industry very much can and should meet these standards," says Shannon. "They much better reflect the vast majority of people expect animals raised for food to be treated.

"The price increases may not hit immediately on January 1st, 2022. According to the provisions of the law, grocery stores can continue to sell any products they have in stock, even if they're not from "cage free" animals.

Formica says many grocery chains across California loaded up on pork and egg products before the deadline to keep shelves full.

ABC 10News reached out to the California Grocers Association for information on how they'll implement the new rules, but they were not available for comment.