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How the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on a California law could impact Iowa pork farmers

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) -- Iowa pig farmers could be forced to spend thousands of dollars to change their facilities now as the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld California's Proposition 12.

Californians voted the proposition into law in 2018 but legal challenges prevented it from going into effect. Under the proposition, it is illegal to buy or sell pork in California that is sourced from other pigs that have less than 24 square feet of space.

Despite concerns from the federal government and pork producers nationwide, in a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court says that California has the right to determine what meat is on its shelves, and pork producers will have to figure out if they want to follow along.

Proposition 12 was approved by 63% of California voters in 2018. It requires pork sold and bought in the state to come from mother pigs that are raised at least 24 square feet of space.

Pork producers in Iowa have raised concerns over the impact this would have since the California market takes up 13% of the country's pork sales.

Trish Cook is President of the Iowa Pork Producer Association and is a pig farmer herself. She says the cost to change their facilities to meet California's new standards is too much for Iowa farmers to afford.

Cook said, "Right now farmers are losing about $30 a head on every pig that they're selling because feed costs are really high and the price that we're getting paid from the market isn't high enough to support all the expenses. So when you're already using money on every head of pig that you sell. You're not interested in a large multi-million dollar capital improvement project on your facilities."

The new regulations require spaces much larger than the industry standard, which are typically small cages and crowded group pens where the animals are unable to turn around or lay on their sides.

Cook admits the California law does not force Iowa farmers to make this conversion. They just have to do it if they want their meat in California markets.

Cook says it's unlikely most Iowa farmers will make the shift, however it will also depend on what the meat packing industry chooses.

Iowa is the top producer of pork in the country, with estimates showing pork farmers slaughter around 33 million pigs each year.

Proposition 12 will go into effect in July this year.

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