BOONE, Iowa – A California law that took effect this month is forcing Midwest farmers to make tough financial decisions. Proposition 12 requires farmers to increase the sizes of animal cages if they’re shipping pork, veal, or eggs to California.
Iowa is the country’s number one pork-producing state, and California consumes 13% of U.S. pork. Animal activists say Proposition 12 is about humane treatment for the breeding pigs, but farmers say the new requirements don’t improve care and could cost them thousands of dollars per pig.
Mike Paustian is a sixth-generation pork farmer on his family’s farm.
"It was started by my great-great-great-grandfather who came over from Germany and there have been Paustian’s farming there ever since then," said Paustian.
Paustian says the pork industry is a huge deal in Iowa, but Proposition 12 is forcing farmers like him to gamble with their future. The law requires more cage space for breeding pigs. If barns don’t follow the new standards, they can’t sell their raw meat in California.
"Most of the pigs currently being raised don’t meet those standards," said Paustian.
Paustian says another issue with the law is it's unclear if the standards will stick around or be replaced by something different in the future. Iowa Pork Producers Association CEO Pat McGonegle says the standards will cost up to $3,000 per breeding pig.
"It certainly has a significant economic impact," said McGonegle.
McGonegle says the Proposition 12 requirements don’t improve the care of the breeding pigs.
"It is in our interest to take good care of them. So, I think the implication that we don’t take care of them today is completely wrong," said McGonegle.
California is also expected to feel the financial effects of Prop 12. Some Proposition 12 opponents say the state could see bacon prices initially spike 60%, and a University of California study says the law will cost state residents $320 million more annually.
The Humane Society of the United States Vice President of Farm Animal Protection Josh Balk says hundreds of farmers are already following Proposition 12, and this is about treating farm animals humanely.
"Policies have united across the industry calling on pork producers to stop treating animals this cruelly and such barbarically to confine them in a cage unable ever to move around," said Balk.
Balk says wanting farm animals to have humane treatment is an ordinary American value to have.
"It passed overwhelmingly with support from Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike, and that’s because it’s common sense that we shouldn’t confine an animal in a cage barely larger than her entire animal," said Balk.
But farmers say they’re the ones getting a raw deal.
"My whole goal is to make sure that the farm is around so that if my kids want to farm someday that they’d be able to, and so right now, Prop 12 is not a gamble that I’m willing to make on my farm," said Paustian.
The California Superior Court is delaying the enforcement of Proposition 12 since regulations still aren't finalized. The law remains in effect, but farmers can’t be penalized yet.