Thanks to a reworked menu and long hours, Jeannie Kim managed to keep his San Francisco restaurant alive during the coronavirus pandemic.
This makes it all the more frustrating that she fears her breakfast-focused dinner will be ruined in a matter of months by new rules that could make one of her main menu items – bacon – hard to come by. California.
“Our number one seller is bacon, eggs and hash browns,” said Kim, who has run SAMS American Eatery for 15 years on the city’s busy market street. “It could be devastating for us. “
Early next year, California will begin implementing an animal welfare proposal that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018 that requires more space for breeding pigs, laying hens and veal calves. . Domestic veal and egg producers are optimistic about their ability to meet the new standards, but only 4% of hog farms are now in compliance with the new rules. Unless the courts step in or the state temporarily allows the sale of non-compliant meat in the state, California will lose almost all of its pork supply, much of which comes from Iowa. , and pork producers will face higher costs to regain a key market.
For years, animal welfare organizations have been pushing for more humane treatment of farm animals, but California rules could be a rare case where consumers are clearly paying the price for their beliefs.
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With little time to build new facilities, inseminate sows, and process offspring by January, it’s hard to see how the hog industry can adequately supply California, which consumes about 15% of all pork produced in the country. country.
“We are very concerned about the potential impacts on supply and therefore cost increases,” said Matt Sutton, director of public policy for the California Restaurant Association.
California restaurants and grocery stores use about 255 million pounds of pork per month, but its farms produce just 45 million pounds, according to Rabobank, a global food and agriculture financial services company.
The National Pork Producers Council has asked the US Department of Agriculture for federal assistance to help pay for the modernization of hog facilities across the country to fill the void. Hog producers said they have not complied because of cost and because California has yet to issue formal regulations on how the new standards will be administered and enforced.
Barry Goodwin, an economist at North Carolina State University, estimated the additional costs at 15% more per animal for a farm of 1,000 breeding pigs.
If half of the pork supply were suddenly lost in California, bacon prices would jump 60%, meaning a $ 6 pack would drop to around $ 9.60, according to a study by the Hatamiya Group, a consultancy firm hired by opponents of the government proposal.
On a typical Iowa hog farm, sows are kept in outdoor cages measuring 14 square feet when they join a herd, then for a week as part of the insemination process before moving on to pens. larger group of approximately 20 square feet. with other pigs. Both are less than the 24 square feet required by California law to give breeding pigs enough room to roll over and extend their limbs. Other farms keep sows in cages almost all the time and therefore would not be compliant either.
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The California Department of Food and Agriculture said while detailed regulations are not complete, key space rules have been known for years.
“It is important to note that the law itself cannot be changed by regulations and that the law has been in place since the farm animal containment proposal (Prop 12) was widely adopted in 2018,” said the agency said in response to questions from the AP.
The pork industry has sued, but so far the courts have backed the California law. The National Pork Producers Council and a coalition of California restaurants and business groups have called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to delay the new requirements. The council is also hoping that meat already in the supply chain could be sold, which could delay shortages.
Josh Balk, who leads farm animal protection efforts at the Humane Society in the United States, said the pork industry should accept the overwhelming opinion of Californians who want animals to be treated in a more humane manner.
“Why are pork producers constantly trying to overturn animal cruelty laws? Balk asked. “It says something about the pork industry when it seems like its business operation is losing on the ballot when it tries to defend the practices, and then when animal cruelty laws are passed, to try to overthrow them. “
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In Iowa, which raises about a third of the country’s pigs, farmer Dwight Mogler estimates the changes would cost him $ 3 million and make room for 250 pigs in a space that now holds 300.
To pay the expense, Mogler said, he would have to earn $ 20 more per pig and so far processors are offering much less.
“The question for us is, if we make these changes, what will be the next change in the rules two years, three years, five years ahead? Mogler asked.
California rules also create a challenge for slaughterhouses, which can now send different cuts of a single pork to locations across the country and in other countries. Processors will need to design new systems to track California-compliant hogs and separate those premium cuts from standard pork that can serve the rest of the country.
At least initially, analysts predict that even if California pork prices skyrocket, customers elsewhere in the country will see little difference. Eventually, the new California rules could become a national standard, as processors cannot afford to ignore the market in such a large state.
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Kim, the owner of the San Francisco restaurant, said she survived the pandemic by cutting down on her menu, traveling hundreds of miles across the Bay Area herself to deliver food and cut down on staff. .
Kim, who is Korean-American, said she was particularly worried about small restaurants whose customers can’t afford steep price increases and which specialize in Asian and Hispanic dishes that typically include pork.
“You know, I work and live with a lot of Asian and Hispanic populations in the city and their diet consists of pork. The pork is huge, ”Kim said. “It’s almost like bread and butter. “