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Hog farmers say new California law could threaten their industry

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A sow at Mike Deahr's farm on Wednesday.
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Deahr's pen gestation facility.

MUSCATINE, Iowa (KWWL) - A new law to improve the quality of life for livestock could cost Iowa hog farmers millions of dollars.

Proposition 12 was passed by California voters in 2018. Part of the law says any pig sold in California, regardless of where it was raised, must have come from a breeding operation where sows had at least 24 square feet of space each.

Californians consume 15% of all pork produced in the United States, and Iowa leads the country in hog production. To make sure they stay compliant, farmers are making tough decisions before the law goes into effect on January 1, 2022.

"Whatever I do is an expensive decision," Mike Deahr said, a hog farmer in Muscatine.

There are no laws about space requirements in Iowa; only laws against animal abuse. However, Deahr has chosen to give his breeding sows at least 18 sq. ft. each.

"If our animals are happy, we're happy," he said.

Deahr uses pen gestation, where pigs are often gathered together instead of in individual crates. At his facility on Wednesday, he had his pens organized so animals had between 18 and 22 sq. ft. on average.

But he says sometimes pigs need to be crated, like when one is getting bullied and needs to be separated from the others. For that reason, part of his facility is for crated pigs.

"Pigs are social animals. But that can be positive and negative," he said.

Another section of Prop. 12 says no pigs can be crated for more than six hours in a 24 hour period, or 24 hours in a period of 30 days. He says complying with this would require more workers to move pigs around, and new, more modern crates.

All in all, he says complying with Prop. 12 would cost him well over $2 million.

As a producer, he says it's duty to respond to consumer demand.

"We appreciate the Californians as a market. We don't want to disappoint them," Deahr said.

But to him, this law looks like it could have been cooked up by politicians and animal rights groups, and not the average family who may see price increase.

"I hope the legislators in California are being up front with their constituents. That they actually want this product for the right reasons of animal health, and not as a way for animal rights people trying to put us out of business," Deahr said.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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