Pork producers may need to adjust housing protocols for breeding pigs to retain access to the California consumer market.
In May, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirmed that states could pass laws to protect the health and welfare of animals. In California, the newest animal health and welfare regulation, Proposition 12 (Prop 12), prohibits the strict confinement of breeding pigs. Prop 12’s standards include egg-laying hens and veal calves raised in California. Outside states selling eggs and veal to California must also comply.
However, this regulation may mean housing adjustments for many pork producers, especially California farmers. By Jan. 1, 2024, all breeding swine farms will need Prop 12 certification for buyers and pork distributors to sell pork to the California market.
“If you want to maintain access to your customers that are selling in the California market, your commercial breeding pigs need to be in compliant housing, and that really needs to happen quickly,” says California state veterinarian Annette Jones during a webinar on June 27.
The webinar, which was producer-focused, was the third in a series hosted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
What does this mean for breeding pigs and pork harvested in 2023?
Recently, the Superior Court for the County of Sacramento issued an order modifying certain aspects of the implementation schedule for Prop 12. According to the National Pork Producers Council, the order doesn’t delay producers’ requirements to meet the Prop 12 standards on their farms. However, it gives suppliers additional time to sell non-compliant whole pork meat already in the supply chain.
“The enforcement happens at the California sale, but the distributor into California is required to have an audit trail all the way back through to the commercial breeding operation,” says Jones.
- As of July 1, whole non-compliant pork in possession of an end user — such as a distributor — needs to be self-certified.
- After July 1, non-compliant whole pork meat to be sold in California will need to be in the possession of a pork distributor or an establishment under mandatory inspection under Food Safety and Inspection Service that has been self-certified.
- All sales of non-compliant whole pork meat in California will end on Dec. 31.
The CDFA will be working with producers, buyers, and distributors toward full implementation in 2024 as existing inventory moves through the system in 2023. “By January 2024, all pork sold in California will need to be from a compliant source,” adds Jones.
Which pigs fall under Prop 12 standards?
According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the Golden State had about 177,000 pigs and ranked 27th in the U.S. for pork production in 2017.
Most of the pigs are raised on farms in the Central Valley, including along the coastal regions, and Northern and Southern California. According to the California Pork Producers Association, many California pork producers raise pigs commercially for breeding, 4-H and FFA projects, roaster pigs, and direct market sales. Also, many of the state’s agriculture colleges, such as CSU Fresno, UC Davis, and Modesto Junior College, raise and sell pigs.
Prop 12 will affect gilts at six months of age or pregnant, older sows that have been bred for commercial breeding to produce pork meat, including a sow’s immediate offspring.
Elizabeth Cox, the CDFA’s animal care program manager who joined Jones on the webinar, says that Prop 12 will apply to all commercial breeding pigs in California.
“I think the important thing to remember is the law,” says Cox. “To our regulations, it’s someone keeping breeding pigs, sows, and gilts that will be bred.”
The law will also apply to pork producers outside California that will have whole pork meat from breeding pigs or the immediate offspring sold in California.
With older sows that are already bred or planned for conception, the CDFA provided the definition of a production cycle: for an older sow and her offspring to be compliant, she needs to be in Prop 12-compliant housing for the duration of her breeding cycle.
“A new production cycle for sows will begin at weaning. She didn’t need to be in compliant housing when she was a gilt, but she can move into Prop 12 housing and she needs to stay there for the duration of her production cycle,” Cox adds.
What are the required housing standards?
Under the housing requirements for breeding pigs set by the CDFA, pigs are prohibited from any confined enclosures that prevent them from lying down, standing up, extending their limbs, or turning around freely. The enclosure needs to be 24 square feet of usable floor space per breeding pig, according to Prop 12 and CDFA standards.
Producers can calculate the available floor space by dividing an enclosure’s total square footage by the number of breeding pigs confined in the area. Floor space also includes sections that are outdoor pens or pastures that breeding pigs have access to, adds Cox.
“We know that not all enclosures are a perfect square or rectangle, but this should guide people in thinking of the space that is accessible at all times by the animals in that specific enclosure,” she says.
Producers must also account for any equipment — such as an electronic self-feeder — that takes away from available floor space.
“We are asking people to rely on the definition of turning around freely. I know not all pigs will be the same size or length, but think about your longest pig from nose to tail,” adds Cox. “That’s her length, and that’s her diameter for a circle as far as how much space she will need to turn around.”
Producers also can keep using their free-access stalls especially if the area meets Prop 12’s standards. However, the stalls must stay unlocked. If farmers choose to lock their stalls, they will document it and the length of time they keep those stalls locked.
Does this mean that group housing for breeding pigs will be required? In short, no, says Cox. Farmers will not be required to use group housing to be compliant. However, it may be the alternative producers adopt in their houses to comply with the new mandate.
“In reality, that could be an option for many producers to meet the turnaround freely and 24 square feet of minimum floor space requirement,” Cox says.
Farrowing crates are allowed under Prop 12
The regulation does make exceptions for sows and gilts that don’t need to be in compliant housing.
Producers can hold pigs in non-compliant Prop 12 enclosures for individual treatment or veterinary purposes — examinations, treatments, testing, or prevention of animal disease, injury, or harm — administered by a licensed veterinarian. However, producers can only do this for six hours within a 24-hour period. Producers cannot hold a pig in a non-compliant space for more than 24 hours in a 30-day period.
Cox says the decision must come from a licensed professional.
“It’s at the discretion of the herd veterinarian, who has a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship with the pork producer in regard to confining an individual breeding pig to a non-compliant enclosure under this exception.”
The law includes exceptions for traditional farrowing crates. A sow or gilt can be moved into a farrowing crate or an enclosure that doesn’t meet Prop 12 standards five days before her expected farrowing date. She can stay in that space while nursing piglets, but producers must move her out and back into Prop 12-compliant areas when their piglets are weaned.
How do farmers become Prop 12 certified?
Producers have a choice to get Prop 12 certified through the California Department of Agriculture or an accredited third-party agent.
Agents will visit an applicant’s farm and walk through houses to validate that breeding sows and gilts are kept in pens or spaces that meet Prop 12 standards. The visit will also include a review of records of protocols, inventory numbers, facilities, and transactions of acquiring animals. Producers will be required to keep records on any individual sows and gilts that were kept in non-compliant spaces, such as for farrowing or individual treatment. The documents must include details on how long they were kept in that space and veterinary notes.
However, not all out-of-state pork producers must undergo certification to comply with California’s new regulation.
“Locations of commercial breeding pigs intended for the California market need to be certified, but not all the other production units in the supply chain,” adds Jones.
Producers can also be a “split operation,” a farm raising Prop 12 compliant and non-compliant breeding pigs. When agents visit “split operation” farms, farmers will need to show agents additional record-keeping that there are procedures in place to keep compliant and non-compliant breeding pigs and their offspring separate, says Cox.
Cox and Jones said that as California producers and producers raising pork to be sold in the state’s marketplace may face challenges getting certified, but farmers will have opportunities to make corrections to any non-compliant issues.
“It’s going to be between the certifying agent and the pork producer as far as how to correct things and then demonstrate to the certifying agent that it has been corrected. Then, they can move forward,” says Jones.
Once an agent approves a farm for Prop 12 compliance, producers will receive a certificate for their records to show buyers or distributors. Compliance is renewed annually, and again, includes on-site inspection and a review of records by the farm’s certifying agent.
Producers can also be a distributor. Certification as a producer will carry over for farmers selling directly to consumers at farmer’s markets and online sales inside and outside California, including exhibitors selling market hog projects.
CDFA has also rolled out several guides to help producers with implementing Prop 12 standard in their breeding houses, which are listed below.
- Housing Guide
- Producer Certification Guide
- List of certified agents
For more, producers should visit cdfa.ca.gov.