The impact of state animal welfare policies on US pork production

Several US States have passed and begun implementing new animal welfare regulations
calendar icon 21 February 2022
clock icon 4 minute read

Several US States have passed and begun implementing farm animal welfare regulations over the past two decades. In the pork industry, regulations have focused on the common practice of using gestation crates for housing pregnant sows. In 2002, Florida passed a constitutional amendment effectively banning the practice for in-State operations, the first State to do so. Since 2002, an additional nine States have passed similar laws, either by ballot initiative or legislative action. The earliest of these laws only require that animals receive sufficient space to allow for covered behaviors such as lying down, standing up, fully extending limbs, and turning around freely. Later laws have more specific requirements.

For example, California’s 2018 measure requires a minimum of 24 square feet of usable floorspace per breeding pig, well above the typical 14 square-foot industry standard.8 In addition to production restrictions, two of these States, California and Massachusetts, passed retail sales restrictions that prohibit the sale of pork originating from animals kept in gestation-crate systems or their direct offspring. Most of the production restrictions were fully implemented prior to 2021 except in California and Massachusetts, where they go into effect in 2022, and Ohio, where they will be fully implemented by 2026. The retail sales laws for California and Massachusetts, as passed, are scheduled to go into effect in 2022.

These rules are broadly applied in long-term production circumstances, while several laws allow short-term exceptions that include veterinary procedures, transportation, exhibition, and defined periods of the breeding cycle.

These regulations are concentrated in States with relatively small pork industries. With the exception of Michigan and Ohio, each of them has produced, on average, less than 1 percent of total U.S. pork production (in pounds) since 2018. Before 2017, the combined number of hogs produced in States with fully implemented production restrictions totaled, on average, less than 1 percent of the national herd.

The proportion of the national herd covered by gestation crate bans has increased to approximately 3 percent with the implementation of laws in Michigan and Colorado, and it will reach 6 percent once Ohio’s rule is fully implemented. Projected coverage of the total U.S hog herd, and the breeding herd is expected to remain below 10 percent of hogs and pigs in each case under current State regulations by 2026. State laws cover a larger proportion of hog operations than of total production due to a greater number of small-scale operations in States with bans. By 2026, current State laws will cover approximately 19 percent of all hog operations and 20 percent of all hog breeding operations in the United States.

Interstate pork trade and the concentration of pork production in States without similar regulations mean retail sales bans will likely have impacts beyond a State’s own borders. A combined total of less than 0.2 percent of the national pork herd is produced in the two States with retail sales bans, while an estimated 14 percent of the U.S. population resides in those States. In the past, similarly structured retail sales bans have placed upward pressure on retail prices both in and out of State for hogs and other covered livestock products. These price impacts have arisen in response to production impacts. One effect is the reduction of national livestock numbers in the relevant industry, reducing supply and subsequently increasing prices.

Another factor is increased production costs for the portion of the industry bringing its operations into compliance. Several legal challenges to retail sales bans on pork have been attempted to delay or halt the implementation, but thus far most have not prevailed. The major exception is the January 2021 suspension of California’s 2018 law until 6 months after rules have been defined and finalized.

Coverage of the national pork industry by State gestation crate bans is low and is expected to remain low under current rules through 2026. However, State gestation crate regulations have been increasingly passed over the last 15 years, with more States proposing more recent similar legislation. To the extent that these regulations limit retail sales, industries in States without regulations may face increased pressure to alter gestation crate conventions.

Danielle J. Ufer

Research Agricultural Economist at USDA Economic Research Service
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