Her name is Cutie Putie (2010), symbolizing my passion and drive to do better for our sows.
As you read my thoughts on Prop-12, please remember that I have personally managed and worked in many swine systems in my career, from pasture-based group-housed sows to large confinement operations. I have seen the best and worst of our industry and have dedicated my career to positive change in our industry. Unlike many of my colleagues in the swine industry, I never thought the Pork Producers would win over California regarding Proposition 12, as it would have ramifications on our society beyond agriculture.
The misguided rhetoric around the case has irritated me about the entire situation.
“Extremists in liberal states like California shouldn’t be allowed to BAN OUR BACON and punish hardworking Iowa pork producers with overreaching policies. Disappointed in SCOTUS decision on Prop 12.” Iowa Senator Joni Ernst tweeted.
In truth, the California law voted in by the people does not state how Iowa pork producers have to raise their pigs. Still, if they want to sell into California, they have to be raised in a specific way, the same way my Ford F150 has to meet California’s emissions standards if sold in California.
Legitimately, many producers are concerned with the large packers forcing them into selling contracts that align with the Prop-12 regulations, even though it only represents approximately 13% of pork sales. Ractopamine is a great example, as many producers are not allowed to feed it to their pigs due to export market constraints and a lack of packers wanting to segregate pig sources. The ultimate impact of Prop 12 requirements is either fewer sows in existing facilities or the requirement of building extra square footage. This win also allows animal rights groups to continue to target weaker agricultural states with similar laws.
But can there be a silver lining to this final ruling? Absolutely!
Now that we are not hyper-focused on the pending ruling, we should be working with the Packers to implement blockchain technology within their plants. Technology is now at our fingertips, and the ability to segregate pig sources down to the pig level is possible. When the industry embraces technology, the sky’s the limit on what type of pork products we can offer our customers. My blue-sky moment will be when we can have the carbon footprint for a package of pork chops based on the individual pigs’ feed consumption and growth efficiency. Not to mention this type of technology can benefit niche and up-and-coming smaller producers, get their pigs slaughtered and the meat delivered to their customers. Can you imagine customers ordering a specific box of pork products from a specific barn and producer they want to support? It would be an era where we can embrace low-cost pork and premium pork at the same time.
Besides market accessibility for the smaller independent producers as a silver lining, what about the employee and sow welfare impacts of Prop-12 production? We love to argue based on our “research data,” but ten years ago, we did not have the robust ESF systems that we have today. The ability to feed sows individually in a group system to their exact nutritional requirements is a game changer and is not achievable even within the traditional gestation crate. Additionally, companies love to taut efficiency, and they are process-driven solutions and are a selling feature for new technologies. With that efficiency in mind, a sow farm may have an SOP book written two inches thick to provide our pigs with the best animal welfare. But in reality, we do not give our people time to learn the sows and allow them to change their routine for a better way for them or the animals. But think about if we possibly keep our manhours the same with fewer sows, could that be the winning solution? Maybe there will be time to focus on the little details and finally work towards lowering our mortality in both sows and piglets again. We should all find our current levels unacceptable if we genuinely believe in animal welfare and practice what we preach.