Prop. 12 Q&A
Our exclusive chat with Lori Stevermer, President-Elect of National Pork Producers Council.
Q: How do you sum up Prop. 12?
A: Prop. 12 has been a very challenging and frustrating issue for pig farmers. It revolves around California telling pig farmers how to raise pigs.
To add context, California has less than 1% of the country’s pig producers. They eat a lot of pork, but they don’t have many pig producers. They’re not just telling their own producers how to raise pigs, but reaching across state lines and instructing others on how to raise pigs. And it’s not based on science either. Our producers work closely with our veterinarians and with our consultants to implement best practices.
California also didn’t allow any other state to have input. Typically, when bills come up in your state, constituents can voice their input. That’s very limiting when another state’s legislation affects you like Prop. 12 has done for pig producers.
Q: Did you foresee this coming at all, or were there any indicators of something like Prop. 12 coming even back in 2018?
A: I’ll have to preface by saying I wasn’t on the board in 2018 – I was elected in 2019. We do our best to project down the road what is going to happen in legislation, but you’re never fully aware of how things will play out.
We’re seeing challenges with the wording on these ballot initiatives. Typically, they’re worded either too simple or too complex, people struggle to understand and unintended consequences ensue. That’s what Californians are experiencing right now.
If you read a referendum that says, “do you believe in treating animals humanely,” who is going to say no to that? That’s what producers do every day. What it isn’t saying is that these types of production practices are limiting the amount of pork that can go into California and also raising the cost of pork.
We hear so much about food availability and affordability, regardless of the state you live. It’s so frustrating to know that we have a very wholesome, nutritious, affordable protein that a large segment of the market is going to have to pay more for or not even have access to.
Q: Cost is obviously a huge area of concern for pork farmers. Not only the cost of pork operations in the future but also the cost of facility updates that needs to be made over the course of the next couple of years. What other future implications to the pork farmer is National Pork concerned about?
A: The other concern that we hear from our stakeholders is the uncertainty in the market and the fear of a patchwork of regulations. If California has Prop. 12 that requires 24 square feet and no gestation stalls, what’s to keep another state from saying, “Well, I’m going to go to 26 feet.
The end result is a patchwork of regulations across the United States. When we sell a pig, loins go one place, hams go to another, plus some pork goes to export markets. Now the question is, how do you produce pork? How do you design your facilities when you don’t know when the next change is coming and what that’s going to require you to do? That continues to be a concern.
Q: According to your expertise and experience, what are the consequences that pork farmers might be facing if they don’t comply with the Prop. 12 regulations?
A: Much of it will depend on the packer they’re selling to, and if the packer needs Prop. 12 compliant pork. I do believe that’s part of the uncertainty producers are facing now. If they don’t make the changes, will there be a market for their pigs and how will those pigs be priced? How do they balance that scenario against the cost of making the changes to be Prop. 12 compliant.
Q: What are the concerns of packers and their thoughts towards Prop. 12?
A: They’re facing uncertainty too. They’re looking at the regulations and asking themselves if they’ll have the supply. Without enough Prop. 12 compliant pork , they may find themselves shut out of the CA market and may need to find other markets for that pork.
Q: What words of encouragement or industry insight can you give pork farmers regarding Prop. 12 and the future of the pork industry?
A: Well, we’re a diverse industry with a lot of different perspectives, but we have heard from our farmers that they want certainty. It’s difficult to operate, not only under the uncertainty of California’s regulations today but also where this is going to lead other state decisions tomorrow.
What I can say is, “We hear you.” In the short term, we are working with many representatives and senators, both behind-the-scenes and publicly to find a legislative solution. Long term, we’re doing everything we can to be proactive in other states to avoid other ballot initiatives like this.
Q: If producers have questions about Prop. 12, where should they look for information?
A: NPPC is a very good source for information. If you are looking for the regulations and how to go about adapting your facilities to be Prop. 12 compliant, the California Department of Food and Ag (CDFA) has that information.
The CDFA hosted a series of webinars earlier this summer in June that were very helpful to those producers that are making the transition. They also have a list of certifying agents that will provide third party certification which will be the requirement on January 1, 2024 to be Prop. 12 compliant.
About Lori Stevermer
Lori currently serves as President Elect on the National Pork Producer Council’s Executive Board. Her previous experience includes nine years on the Executive Board of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association and various state and national committees.
Lori is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in animal science.
Lori enjoys advocating for the swine industry at local, state and national events. Her favorite MN Pork volunteer events include Oink Outings, Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth and the MN State Fair. Lori’s interests include running, biking and spending time with her family.
Lori Stevermer and her husband Dale raise pigs and crops near Easton, Minnesota and have three kids: Brett, a U of MN graduate working as a mechanical engineer for Nystrom in Brooklyn Center, Adam, a U of MN graduate working in Mower County as a 4-H program coordinator and Beth, who is currently studying agriculture law at Drake University in Des Moines, IA.
Additionally, Lori is the Marketing Manager for Hubbard Feeds having spent her time in sales and marketing in the animal nutrition business for over 30 years.
The Current and Potential Impact of Proposition 12 for Pork Farmers.
In November of 2018, the state government of California passed a new regulation impacting the pork industry within the state and country—Proposition (Prop.) 12. The ripple effect of the sow housing protocol was felt across the United States as pork farmers assessed their options and timelines for making significant changes by 2022. Now in 2023, the pork industry continues to either make changes to comply with the new law or seek out new routes for pork sales.
What is Proposition 12?
Proposition 12 establishes new minimum requirements on farmers to provide more space for egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and calves raised for veal. California businesses will be banned from selling eggs, uncooked pork or veal that comes from animals housed in ways that did not meet these requirements.
The pork implications of this law:
- Bans the sale of pork from the offspring of sows kept in pens that do not meet its prescribed dimensions of 24 square feet per sow.
- Prohibits breeding pens that provide a postpartum space for sows to recover from their previous litter without the stress of fighting and establishing dominance in the herd. Today’s typical sow farm offers 16-18 square feet per sow.
- Applies to any uncooked pork sold in California, whether raised there or outside the state’s borders. It specifically applies to bacon and other cuts of meat that have been cured, preserved or flavored but not cooked. It does not apply to combination products such as sandwiches, hot dogs, pizzas or other prepared foods that are comprised of more than pork meat and seasonings. California has also said it will not apply to ground or comminuted pork such as that found in sausage.1
Developments Over Time
There have been many steps taken from the announcement of Prop. 12 to today. Check out this timeline to refresh your memory.
- November 2018 – 62% of California voters pass Prop. 12.
- December 2018 – The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) file a legal challenge asking the court to strike Prop. 12 as invalid under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
- March 2022 – The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the legal challenge filed by NPPC and AFBF, and arguments are scheduled to take place in the fall of 2022 with a decision expected in early 2023.
- June 2022 – NPPC and AFBF file a joint brief arguing Prop. 12 violates the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause, which restricts states from regulating commerce outside their borders.
- July 2022 – The Biden administration, international trading partners and business groups representing the full scope of the U.S. economy filed briefs in support of the NPPC’s case.
- September 2022 – NPPC and AFBF file SCOTUS reply brief to Petitioners. The same day, California’s Department of Food and Agriculture announces Prop. 12 implementation rules are complete.
- October 11, 2022 – The Supreme Court hears oral arguments.
- May 11, 2023 – The Supreme Court rules 5-4 to uphold California Proposition 12.
- May 31, 2023 – California Department of Food and Agriculture Animal Care Program releases guidance on implementing Prop. 12.
- June 21, 2023 – Superior Court Order of modifying California Proposition 12 implementation filed.1
The Ripple Effects of Prop. 12
The main Prop. 12 concern across the country remains the costs of these changes to pork production facilities.
NPPC estimates the cost of adding facility space, retrofitting pens and feeding systems and the increased labor to monitor animals at $3,500 per sow. A University of Minnesota study puts the cost of facility conversion at $1.9 to $3.2 billion industry wide.2
Additionally, there is concern about market and value. California has nearly 40 million residents, representing approximately 15 percent of the U.S. pork market. Despite being such a large consumer market for pork, California produces 1% of U.S. pork. Prop. 12 will dramatically reduce the pork supply and raise prices for Californians. This raise in price will affect the California consumer’s drive to purchase pork, affecting the amount of pork needed to sustain the California economy. U.S. pork will have to find its way to other markets in the U.S., leading to an oversupply outside California.
Although pork farmers may feel boxed in to make changes, there are different options. NPPC Board President, Scott Hays, says he may choose not to comply.
“As of now, we will not be making changes to our operation,” says Hays. “With the help from our veterinarian partners, we are experts in raising pigs, and we have decided that is not the way we want to do it. We like to give our animals individual care.”2
Producers could also take on the regulations and make the changes, either immediately or over time, perhaps with the perspective that this is a market opportunity.
NPPC continues to work with California on the implementation of the Prop. 12 regulations.
“There’s a number of questions,” says NPPC Chief Legal Strategist, Michael Formica. “We’re in active discussions with California trying to work through this, trying to get clarity, so we have minimal disruptions to the marketplace.”2
The measure also requires a certificate of compliance, involving distributors, packers and producers. The state of California has approved five private firms to conduct third party audits and issue certifications, although these details are still unclear.2
Driven for Change
The National Pork Producers Council is hopeful that there is change nearby. Lori Stevermer, President-Elect of the NPPC Board, says, “We know how much of a concern Prop. 12 raises, and we hear you. We are actively working with our representatives and senators to find a legislative solution, and we’re far from giving up.”
For additional information on Prop. 12 updates, go to the National Pork Producers Council website (nppc.org/prop12) or the California Department of Food and Agriculture website to find out more regarding the specifics of the law.
- California Proposition 12. Agweb. On-Farm Fertilizer Storage Considerations. nppc.org/prop12
- Prop. 12 Ruling: What’s Next for Pig Farmers? Successful Farming. agriculture.com/news/livestock/prop-12-ruling-whats-next-for-pig-farmers