SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The upcoming implementation of California Proposition 12 on Jan. 1 and its ramifications is among the primary focuses of the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
In 2018, voters in California passed Prop 12, a ballot initiative that enacted a law requiring farmers to provide a minimum amount of square feet to egg-laying hens, veal calves and breeding pigs.
The initiative impacts not only California-produced pork, but all other U.S. pork producers whose products are shipped to that state.
“Right now, far and away, our top priority is starting to address the Prop 12 problem in California, where essentially to be Prop 12 compliant we would have to reduce the capacity in our sow farms by about 30%, yet keep the same physical space,” said IPPA President Chad Leman, a third-generation farmer and owner of Lehman Farms in Woodford County, producing hogs, corn and soybeans.
“It’s just not feasible to do it, and so many producers have adopted somewhat of a wait-and-see attitude to see if common sense is going to prevail here.”
The law forbids the sale of whole pork meat in California from hogs born of sows not housed in conformity with the law.
Prop 12 forbids sows from being confined in such a way that they cannot lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, or turn around without touching the sides of their stalls or other animals.
The enclosure needs to be 24 square feet of usable floor space per breeding pig, according to Prop 12 and California Department of Food and Agriculture standards.
Producers can calculate the available floor space by dividing an enclosure’s total square footage by the number of breeding pigs confined in the area. Floor space also includes sections that are outdoor pens or pastures to which breeding pigs have access.
Producers must also account for any equipment — such as an electronic self-feeder — that takes away from available floor space.
Producers also can keep using their free-access stalls especially if the area meets Prop 12′s standards. However, the stalls must stay unlocked. If farmers choose to lock their stalls, they will document it and the length of time they keep those stalls locked.
Producers can hold pigs in noncompliant Prop 12 enclosures for individual treatment or veterinary purposes — examinations, treatments, testing, or prevention of animal disease, injury, or harm — administered by a licensed veterinarian.
However, producers can only do this for six hours within a 24-hour period. Producers cannot hold a pig in a noncompliant space for more than 24 hours in a 30-day period.
“It effects all of the pork shipped into California, except for ground pork. Which is really ironic because, as we all know, the ground pork comes from the same pig that muscle cuts come from. It if weren’t so bad, it’d be laughable,” Leman said in an interview during the Illinois State Fair.
Prop 12 was initially to go into effect Jan. 1, 2022, but has since been delayed due to legal challenges that reached the California Supreme Court.
“It was stayed by the court until Jan. 1 because you just couldn’t physically supply the state of California. They consume 15% of the U.S. pork. After Jan. 1, all pork sold, other than ground pork, will have to be Prop 12 compliant,” Leman said.
To ensure the pork is compliant, there will be a certification process.
“There’s an auditing process that is being built right now that will be in place to prove that these are actually Prop 12-compliant pigs. We have yet to see what the auditing process looks like, but that is all part of it,” Leman added.
“Can we come up with a legislative fix for Prop 12 in the farm bill? At this point, that’s our goal. Almost all of our energy at Illinois Pork right now is going to communicating with senators and congresspeople about the problems that we’re facing with this and seeing if we can get some kind of a fix in the farm bill,” Leman said.
He was asked how the Illinois pork industry overall was faring.
“I think the pork industry in Illinois is maintaining. It’s been a tough last eight months from a financial perspective in this business. We started to see some relief in June and July on prices and actually began to see some positive margins again, but there is certainly going to be some challenges with profitability or the lack of profitability as we get into the fourth quarter of 2023 and the first quarter of 2024,” he said.
“I would say one positive for the livestock industry is that we are at least seeing some moderation to feed prices right now.”
Leman Farms partners with contract growers, marketing about 110,000 pigs annually.
“We work with 10 contract growers that do a great job of raising our pigs for us and taking care of them. We have a great group of employees on our farm working every day taking care of pigs, crops, feed mill, which gives me some freedom to be able to serve in this capacity right now,” Leman said.