Oct 11, 2022
Battle over pork reaches Supreme Court Transcript
A case challenging California regulations on how pregnant pigs are treated could impact pork prices nationally. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:00)
The battle over bacon is headed to the US Supreme Court. The nation’s $20 billion pork industry is suing the state of California over a law that could dramatically change how farmers are allowed to treat pregnant pigs. It could have a major impact nationwide and also on the prices we pay for pork at the grocery store. Our Devin Dwyer got a rare inside look at the stakes in this case and has a story from Minnesota.
Devin Dwyer: (00:23)
This is the birthplace of bacon. Boy, they’re active now. They know we’re here. Row after row.
Mike Borboom: (00:29)
These sows are probably weighing 450 to 550 pounds.
Devin Dwyer: (00:34)
Mother pigs giving birth and nursing newborns. Commodity pork raised on large commercial farms like this one is a critical part of the nation’s food supply.
Mike Borboom: (00:43)
These pigs would’ve been born just last night.
Devin Dwyer: (00:45)
Third generation pork farmer, Mike Borboom, showed us around his family farm in southwest Minnesota.
Mike Borboom: (00:50)
So, you can hear the baby piglets squealing.
Devin Dwyer: (00:53)
A labyrinth of barns and birthing areas where 4,000 sows deliver 100,000 baby pigs a year.
Mike Borboom: (01:00)
This is our eighth time giving birth to a litter.
Devin Dwyer: (01:03)
That’s enough pork to feed close to half a million Americans. And once they’re pregnant, you put them over here.
Mike Borboom: (01:09)
That’s correct. Then they go into open pen gestation.
Devin Dwyer: (01:13)
The treatment of pregnant pigs at farms like Borboom’s is at the center of a high stakes Supreme Court showdown, pitting pork farmers against California.
Mike Borboom: (01:22)
Under Proposition 12, we would not be able to individually confine these animals for breeding like we are today.
Devin Dwyer: (01:29)
The state’s Proposition 12 passed in 2018 would outlaw conditions like these, widely used for breeding across the industry.
Kitty Block: (01:38)
Well, in addition to the extreme cruelty, it’s a human health problem. When you find animals in these terrible conditions, it is a breeding ground for viruses
Devin Dwyer: (01:49)
Backed by animal welfare groups, Prop 12 would ban the sale of all pork from sows confined to crates and crowded group pens like this one where they live until they give birth. Most American pork is raised this way. Why do farmers use it?
Kitty Block: (02:06)
It’s maximizing profits over welfare and over human health. It’s about confining as many animals as you can and churning out as much product as you can.
Mike Borboom: (02:16)
We’ve been raising pigs in confinement for 40 years. I think to eliminate gestation stalls completely would be a step in the wrong direction in terms of treating that animal with respect.
Devin Dwyer: (02:30)
This is a pen of pregnant pigs. They have about 20 square feet each here. Prop 12 would require them to have 24 square feet, and the owners here say that would cost millions of dollars to achieve. California’s law, which is yet to take effect, would have the biggest impact in other states. California consumes around 13% of all US pork, but only produces 1%, importing most meat from states like Minnesota and Iowa.
Jerry Koello: (02:56)
These are called hoop buildings right now in the [inaudible 00:02:58].
Devin Dwyer: (02:58)
Jerry Koello raises just a few hundred pigs on a small farm in Riverdale, California. This is a gestation crate, but she can come or go as she wants.
Jerry Koello: (03:08)
Whenever she wants to go out, she can. They’re fat and sassy. They’re doing well.
Devin Dwyer: (03:12)
His farm complies with Prop 12, but he says it would be difficult and costly for most large farms to upgrade, and he worries about inflation.
Jerry Koello: (03:21)
If you want to all of a sudden cut off pork supply coming into California and make it so much more expensive, for the average guy wanting to buy bacon for 20 bucks a pound, I don’t think that law was well thought out.
Devin Dwyer: (03:35)
The pork industry calls Prop 12 potentially catastrophic, both for farmers and consumers, especially in California.
Barry Goodwin: (03:43)
Even if it’s only 25 cents a pound or something, that adds up to quite a bit over time.
Devin Dwyer: (03:48)
The Constitution’s Commerce Clause says states can’t pass laws with excessive impact on business and trade of other states, and pork producers say Prop 12 does just that. You don’t have to sell in California.
Mike Borboom: (04:01)
It’s California today. Is there going to be more mandates that would come potentially from every single other state?
Devin Dwyer: (04:09)
But several major American pork producers like Hormel Foods here in Austin, Minnesota, say they’re preparing to comply with Proposition 12 in part because of growing consumer demand.
Ruth Jovaag: (04:18)
They need more farmers doing it this way to meet the demand.
Jon Jovaag: (04:22)
Ruth Jovaag: (04:22)
There’s not enough supply.
Jon Jovaag: (04:23)
These are probably four months.
Devin Dwyer: (04:24)
Jon and Ruth Jovaag are part of the Niman Ranch network of family farmers raising pigs in what they call a more humane process.
Jon Jovaag: (04:32)
So, they get a lot of space in here. I can [inaudible 00:04:34].
Devin Dwyer: (04:34)
And once used crates, but now give pregnant sows piles of comfortable hay, fresh air and sunlight, and more than 60 square feet each, not because of regulation, but because of market demands. Why do you think the consumer wants this kind of pork?
Ruth Jovaag: (04:50)
I think they want healthier food and they want to know where it comes from, how it’s raised.
Jon Jovaag: (04:58)
If they were packed in, that creates more anxiety I think if they’re packed in.
Devin Dwyer: (05:02)
Is it realistic for every pig farmer in America to do it how you’re doing it?
Jon Jovaag: (05:07)
Well, it was done this way all the way through probably the ’80s and into the ’90s.
Devin Dwyer: (05:12)
At the Minnesota State Fair-
Speaker 9: (05:13)
Pork chop on a stick at that spot right there.
Devin Dwyer: (05:17)
… we found pork’s popularity unfold display.
Speaker 10: (05:20)
I love to season it. And it’s very economical, very cost effective.
Devin Dwyer: (05:24)
Along with mixed opinions about how those pigs should be raised.
Speaker 11: (05:28)
If it gives them a better life, I don’t mind paying a little bit more.
Devin Dwyer: (05:30)
Price is more important?
Speaker 12: (05:32)
Just all depends.
Devin Dwyer: (05:33)
The average American consumes more than 50 pounds of pork a year, and while humanely raised meat is growing in popularity, the industry wants the Supreme Court to let companies, not California, decide what’s best.
Speaker 13: (05:47)
With California making those rules affecting us as Minnesotans, Minnesota pig farmers, we don’t get that seat at the table.
Devin Dwyer: (05:54)
They say it’s really just about what’s being sold in their state.
Speaker 13: (05:57)
If we want to sell our pork into their state, we have to adhere to those regulations. The impact could be less pork, right? Or else more expensive pork. Neither of which is good for consumers.
Devin Dwyer: (06:10)
More than 60% of California voters approved Prop 12, convinced cruelty exists here, and that pork farmers can and should change their methods. So, you’re saying this condition is better for the pig?
Mike Borboom: (06:25)
I would rather have the sows housed individually like this after weaning to prevent them from fighting with each other.
Devin Dwyer: (06:32)
Mike Borboom hopes the justices will say Californians have gone too far, a debate over humanity and hogs headed for the nation’s highest court.
George Stephanopoulos: (06:44)
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