No bacon in California? Restaurants, grocers try to make sense of new pork-products law

·3 min read

Recent fears about potential pork shortages and massive price increases are not a case of theatrics. On Nov. 10, the California Grocers Association, California Restaurant Association, California Retailers Association, California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and a family processor filed a lawsuit requesting a delay in the implementation of California’s Proposition 12, which added new requirements for how pork that is consumed in California is raised, even if it’s raised out of state.

The lawsuit was necessary because entire California industries throughout the food supply chain are unsure exactly how they are expected to comply with the new law that hit on Jan. 1.

Grocers, retailers, restaurants and family processors are all scratching their heads, wondering how they will sell Prop. 12 compliant pork this year. The problem is the state still has not finalized the rules and regulations all industry stakeholders need to come into compliance and to demonstrate that all pork they buy or sell was raised under the new requirements. With 98% of pork coming from out of state, the state’s pork suppliers have no way of proving on their own that pork was raised in compliance with Prop. 12.

Jot Condi, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association.
Jot Condi, president/CEO of the California Restaurant Association.

They must be able to rely on a state-approved certification system. But, under new draft regulations just released by the state, that certification system is still two years away from being in place. Under Prop. 12, the state was required to complete those rules by Sept. 1, 2019. That would have given the food industry 28 months to implement any required changes, like new labeling and ensuring that all pork from out of state was shipped with valid certificates. Now, without any rules in place about how to label and certify pork, the food industry has no idea how to supply California with pork in 2022.

COVID-19 may have caused delays in issuing regulations, and perhaps Prop. 12 should have provided a longer period of time for California to write new regulations, like Prop. 2 did for the egg industry. Regardless, the state’s delay will cause confusion among California businesses and consumers.

Ronald Fong, president/CEO of the California Grocers Association.
Ronald Fong, president/CEO of the California Grocers Association.

The state has not fulfilled its basic responsibility of providing the framework for lawful compliance with Prop. 12 and implementing the necessary certification system, leaving this group with no choice but to seek relief through the courts. In Massachusetts, where a similar animal housing measure passed in 2016, their equivalent of the state Assembly voted overwhelmingly to extend the deadline for implementation to allow regulators to finish rules and for the market to comply. The delay is expected to be finalized once conferences with the state Senate are complete.

This is not the case in the Golden State, and without court action, an entire industry that tens of thousands of California businesses rely on will be unnecessarily bottlenecked. It is the equivalent of posting a speed limit sign without telling drivers what the limit is.

More worrisome, it will be California families and small businesses that feel the impact the most. Californians are already reeling from inflation caused by supply chain interruptions, including on their favorite pork products, and confusion on the implementation of Prop. 12 is only going to make it worse.

The bottom line is that the state does not have regulations in place, to say nothing of the complex system of certifying the operations of farms and pork distributors nationwide that the draft regulations contemplate. That places the pork suppliers in an untenable position, and consumers will, unfortunately, pay the price of this uncertainty at a time when they’re already struggling.

Now, only the courts can prevent the impending impacts of what has been called “Bacongate.”

Jot Condie is president & CEO of the California Restaurant Association. Ronald Fong is president & CEO of the California Grocers Association.

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