LOS ANGELES — A California judge decided this week to delay enforcement of part of a new farm animal welfare law that critics said would cause price hikes and supply shortages for bacon and other fresh pork products in the state.
The law that went into effect Jan. 1 stemmed from a 2018 ballot measure where California voters set the nation’s toughest living space standards for breeding pigs.
Industry lawsuits opposing the initiative failed, but grocers and restauranteurs then sued to put off enforcement of the new law.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge James Arguelles ruled Monday that retailers and restaurants would not be subject to enforcement of the new restrictions on whole pork meat sales until six months after the state enacts final regulations.
The California Grocers Association, which sued along with other business groups, said Tuesday it was pleased by the decision.
“The court’s decision to ensure regulations are finalized before the enforcement provisions of Proposition 12 take effect was the correct one," the association said in a statement. “California restaurants and families are already struggling with rising food costs and the haphazard implementation of Proposition 12 without any clear rules or certification process in place would have only made it worse.”
The California Department of Food and Agriculture said Tuesday it and the attorney general’s office were evaluating the decision.
“It should be noted that the judge’s ruling is a narrow one that applies only to retailers, including grocers, and not to pork producers providing pork products to California," the department said in a statement.
Pork producers and suppliers remain subject to enforcement if they violate square-footage requirements that went into effect on Jan. 1, the department said.
Rebecca Cary, senior staff attorney at the the Humane Society of the United States, which supported Proposition 12, decried business groups seeking to overturn or delay a law that prevents cruelty to animals.
“This order means that pork producers who were hoping to continue to confine mother pigs in cages so small they’re unable even to turn and then sell meat from those animals in California have lost yet again,” Cary said in a statement Tuesday.
The law requires that breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens and veal calves be given enough space to stand and turn around. For pigs, that means they no longer can be kept in narrow “gestation crates” and must have 24 square feet (2.23 square meters) of usable space.
Producers of eggs and veal appear able to meet the new law, but hog farmers argued the changes would be too expensive and couldn’t be carried out until the state approved final regulations for the new standards. An estimate last year from North Carolina State University found the new standard would cost about 15% more per animal for a farm with 1,000 breeding pigs.
Since voters approved Proposition 12 by a 2-to-1 ratio in November 2018, state officials missed deadlines for releasing specific regulations covering the humane treatment of animals that provide meat for the California market.
While groups worked to delay the measure, the state eased the transition to the new system. It allowed pork processed under the old rules and held in cold storage to be sold in California in 2022, which could prevent shortages for weeks or even months.
California is the nation’s largest market for pork, and producers in major hog states like Iowa provide more than 80% of the roughly 255 million pounds (115 million kilograms) that California’s restaurants and groceries use each month, according to Rabobank, a global food and agriculture financial services company.
Joining the California Grocers Association in the lawsuit were the California Restaurant Association, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, California Retailers Association and Kruse & Sons, a meat processor.
Associated Press journalists Robert Jablon in Los Angeles and Scott McFetridge in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.