Ham and eggs? MA, CA self-impose food price inflation

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The next time you travel to Boston, it might be wise on several fronts to stick with the chowder and lobster rolls rather than ham and eggs. Heading to California? Let me suggest a nice cioppino and a salad — but again, maybe not the ham and eggs.

Why? Call it self-imposed food price inflation in which voters in California and Massachusetts have passed laws regulating the conditions in which pigs, hens, and calves are housed in industrial agriculture production facilities. Those laws are now the subject of a case headed to the Supreme Court that is being closely anticipated by farmers, producers and consumers in those states and the rest of the country.

Opponents of California’s Proposition 12, which bans the sale of pork from hogs born to sows that weren’t raised under the state’s “arbitrary” production standards, include the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producer’s Council. Their legal challenge is based on what they claim are protections under the Commerce Clause.

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NPPC President Terry Wolters said after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in March: “We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Proposition 12, in which California seeks to impose regulations targeting farming practices outside its borders that would stifle interstate and international commerce. NPPC has poured a lot of blood, sweat and tears into preserving the rights of America’s pork producers to raise hogs in a way that’s best for their animals’ well-being and that allows them to continue selling pork to all consumers, both here and internationally.”

In their legal challenge, NPPC and AFBF claimed that while California residents consume 13% of the nation’s pork, they alleged that “99.9% of pork sold in the state derives from sows raised out-of-state. Consumers everywhere will pay for Prop. 12, disrupting supply and demand nationwide.”

Massachusetts officials have now twice postponed the implementation of laws similar to California’s Prop 12 while awaiting the high court’s ruling in the case. NPPC and the Farm Bureau say California’s animal welfare laws pose an unconstitutional burden on farmers and consumers nationwide.

Further, Successful Farming’s Chuck Abbott reported that NPPC said in federal court filings that Massachusetts’ rules would have blocked the transport of pork through the state, “jeopardizing an estimated $2 billion worth of pork that moves into neighboring New England states.”

Inflation has already driven pork prices up nearly 9% during a 40 -year high in overall inflation. These laws could further raise retail prices for pork, eggs, and veal for consumers and dictate significant expenses for producers to make their industrial farms compliant – costs that will be passed on to the consumer all over the country.

Why should Mississippians care? Mississippi ranks 23rd in the nation in pork production at more than 1.02 million swine annually. But the heavyweight commercial pork-producing states are Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska and Missouri. In terms of eggs, Mississippi produced 1.41 million eggs in 2020 at a value of $260 million.

An August 10 editorial in The Wall Street Journal summed up the situation succinctly: “If Massachusetts can prohibit the sale and mere distribution of meat produced by out-of-state farms, why couldn’t it do the same for goods manufactured by businesses that don’t follow its more onerous labor regulations? Or how about products made with coal power?

“Democratic states are increasingly imposing their progressive cultural values on other states. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has a chance to stop this regulatory imperialism. The Justices in October will hear a challenge to California’s similar farm animal regulations, which are on hold pending the Court’s review. States that extend their regulation too far and harm other states need to be penned in,” the editorial concluded.

California and Massachusetts voters are within their rights to express concern about animal welfare and production conditions in large pork, beef and egg-producing operations. But do they exceed their rights in violation of interstate commerce laws by seeking to impose their animal rights restrictions across state lines?

Reason.com writer Baylen Linnekin asked the best question about the court case: “Can the U.S. Constitution save California and Massachusetts voters from themselves? The national food economy may depend on it.”

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.