Cupids Health

Is the Pork Industry Using Food Justice to Stall California’s New Animal Welfare Law?

In June, Progressive Farmer warned of a looming pork shortage and sticker shock that would disproportionately harm California’s “diverse ethnic consumers.” In July, the Associated Press (AP) ran a similar story that was picked up by multiple national publications declaring bacon might disappear in the state, featuring a Korean American restaurant owner who said the law “could be devastating” for her business.

Driving these stories was a warning from an industry worried about the looming implementation of Proposition 12, the animal welfare ballot initiative that California voters approved by a wide margin in 2018. After a three-year phase-in, the law’s final requirements will go into effect on January 1, 2022. Among other rules that affect chickens and veal calves, Prop. 12 mandates minimum space requirements for breeding pigs typically housed in gestation crates and will ban the sale of fresh pork from producers in any state who don’t meet those requirements.

It’s a change the pork industry has already attempted to fight from multiple angles, and this newest public relations push revolves around an entity called the Food Equity Alliance and a simple price-and-supply analysis commissioned by the group that warns of pork shortages and their impact on communities of color.

But the analysis, which the AP erroneously called a study, was far from a comprehensive evaluation of the law’s potential impacts on prices and supply, and the Alliance is not, as the name suggests, an existing group fighting for food justice. It’s an entity that began developing its web and social media presence this spring when it started calling on Governor Gavin Newsom to delay the implementation of Prop. 12. Its members represent various business interests, including the California Pork Producers Association and some groups that represent diverse populations, such as the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

Civil Eats reached out to the Alliance and was connected to Tiffany Moffatt, a senior counselor at public relations firm Elevate Public Affairs, who asked to be identified as the group’s spokesperson. She told Civil Eats that the group does not have a position on the merits of Prop. 12 and is simply asking for a delay in the law’s implementation because the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA) was late in publishing regulations and the pork industry will not be able to comply in time, resulting in supply issues. But supporters of the law say producers, retailers, and other companies involved in this supply chain have known the core requirements for nearly three years and are now using the issue of “equity” in a last-ditch effort to delay making the changes.

“They are trying to wage this covert PR campaign . . . to make these wild claims related to pork sales, when all they have to do is allow their mother pigs to turn around and give them more space,” said Josh Balk, the vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which led the push to pass Prop. 12 in California.

Meanwhile, food equity experts and advocates say that while overall concerns about short-term price increases are valid, the argument ignores bigger, systemic questions around healthy food access. “It’s part of the conversation, but [price] is part of this more complex ecosystem,” said Christine Tran, the executive director of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, which includes animal welfare in its framework for food that is “healthy, affordable, fair and sustainable for all.”

Who’s Behind the Food Equity Alliance?

The Food Equity Alliance’s website was created by Dauntless Communications, a company that provides web development and political campaign services for Republican lawmakers and conservative causes. It was founded by Eric Eisenhammer, who also leads a free-market think tank. Other Dauntless projects include conservative commentator Megan Barth’s ReaganBabe, a campaign that stokes fears of “criminal illegal aliens” to drum up opposition to the Sanctuary State law, and Eisenhammer’s own Coalition for Energy Users, which advocates against renewable energy subsidies and oil and gas tax increases.

Dauntless uses a sparse, formulaic structure for many of the political sites it develops, and the Food Equity Alliance site is no different; it features no content that isn’t related to Prop. 12, a number of stock photos of minority families and restaurateurs, and no contact information. In addition to the California Pork Producers Council, its list of members includes a few other pork companies, California’s biggest restaurant and grocery associations, and a handful of Latinx and Asian restaurant and business associations, including the Latino Restaurant Association and National Asian American Coalition.

A spokesperson for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), the voice of the industry, said “NPPC absolutely supports the Food Equity Alliance” when asked whether the organization is involved in the Alliance in any way.

A decade ago, Neil Thapar, the former director of the food and farm program at California’s Sustainable Economies Law Center, worked on an analysis of Proposition 2, a less aggressive ballot measure that paved the way for Prop. 12. Opponents of Prop. 2 also warned of price increases, but racial inequities were not integrated into the argument in the same way, said Thapar, who recently co-founded Minnow, an organization working on land justice for BIPOC farmers. However, the Food Equity Alliance’s approach looks a lot like the playbook used by the beverage industry to fight soda taxes in the Bay Area, he said.

“They found corner store owners and small grocery owners, all people of color, and you couldn’t watch a YouTube video without seeing an ad,” he said of anti-soda tax campaigns. “They’d have a bunch of pictures of people of color and a bunch of pictures of small businesses and they’d sort of pretend that they were on the side of the little guy.” During that campaign, the soda industry ran ads that specifically shared misinformation, calling the soda tax a “grocery tax.”

Moffatt said the group’s main concern is price increases due to the CDFA’s delay in issuing a regulatory framework for Prop. 12. The proposition directed the CDFA to create the framework by September 2019; a draft was not released until May 2021 and has yet to be finalized. The overall law includes new housing requirements for egg-laying hens, veal calves, and hogs. The veal and egg industries have said they are largely already in compliance, and a few pork companies, including Hormel and Coleman Natural Foods, have embraced the changes and expect to be ready by January.

But only 4 percent of the country’s overall pork supply is currently in compliance, and California consumes about 15 percent, according to the APThat gap is the basis for the Alliance’s predictions. Moffat and representatives of a few of the Alliance’s member organizations held a press conference to release the document—a three-page memo produced by a consulting firm—that referred to pork shortages and price spikes. In the memo, consultant Lon Hatamiya compiled California-specific economic data pulled from a comprehensive analysis of factors that drive pork prices across the U.S. That analysis was done by economists Jayson Lusk and Glynn Tonsor and funded by the National Pork Board. Hatamiya’s widely cited conclusion is that “a 50 percent reduction in available bacon would result in 60 percent higher bacon prices in the Los Angeles market.”

In an interview, Tonsor explained that the estimate represented a “scaling up” of his conclusions around how a reduction of supply in L.A. would impact price. In his analysis, he included the example that a 10 percent reduction in bacon availability in L.A. would cause prices to rise 12 percent. He was comfortable with applying that calculation to a 50 percent decrease in supply, but it gave him slight pause because “when you have big changes, some of our models don’t work quite as well,” he said. “But it’s in the realm of what we’d expect, and I think that is the best we have to work with.”

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