California restaurants bracing for potential pork shortage

Baja-style Chinese food. Carnitas "colorada.” That’s “red pork” in Spanish. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The pandemic swept through the Los Angeles restaurant scene like a tornado, harming some while obliterating others. Forced closures, challenging outdoor dining restrictions and devastating job losses became part of the day-to-day rigor for California restaurant owners.

Now, with a potential light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, another issue is likely to hit restaurants. It’s called Proposition 12.

The clock has run out and California consumers are left with an alarming scenario: a potential pork shortage.

Passed by voters in 2018, Proposition 12 established new regulations on animal housing for pigs, calves and egg-laying hens and goes into effect on January 1, 2022. T

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) was charged with issuing Proposition 12 guidelines by September 2019 to give those impacted enough time to make the necessary compliance changes. Nearly two years later, the CDFA only just proposed regulations for public comment.

The clock has run out and California consumers are left with an alarming scenario: a potential pork shortage as most of the nation’s current pork supply (bacon, ham and pork chops) will become illegal for sale in the Golden State. The food supply chain simply does not have enough time to comply – the reason voters gave two years in the initiative to make the necessary changes. Now, experts anticipate that consumers will pay the price.

According to a recent independent analysis conducted by Rabobank, the global leader in marketplace analysis and research for the food sector: “With less than 4% of US sow housing currently able to meet the new standard, Rabobank expects a shortfall in compliant pork to bifurcate the US market, leaving California with a severe pork deficit (and higher prices), while generating a surplus in the rest of the US market.”

The Rabobank report goes on to note, “Based on California’s current population, which over-indexes for pork consumption given its large Latino and Asian populations, Rabobank estimates the state would need at least 255m pounds of compliant pork per month to satisfy its retail and foodservice needs. As only 1.9% of US pork is produced in California, or 45m pounds per month, we expect the state to need to import at least 210m pounds of compliant pork per month from outside the state…Based on current production and projects underway, Rabobank estimates that compliant pork supplies could fall 50% short of Californian’s needs if the law were to be implemented on January 1, 2022.”

The Latino Restaurant Association recently joined the Food Equity Alliance, a statewide coalition of California grocery stores and restaurants, business organizations, food processors, food equity supporters and consumers, to call attention to the risks associated with Proposition 12. We are calling on Gov.  Newsom to delay the implementation of Proposition 12 to give the food supply chain time to comply with state regulations.

Pork is something Californians expect as a readily available and affordable product to feed their families. Consumers are used to ordering their favorite pork dish at a restaurant or visiting their local grocery store and finding an abundance of bacon, ham, and pork chops. If Gov. Newsom fails to act, that will no longer be a guarantee.

Editor’s Note: Lilly Rocha is executive director of the Latino Restaurant Association

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