Sows will get more room under Massachusetts’ law.
Restaurants were spared a significant crimp in pork supplies Monday when a federal court agreed to delay enforcement of a Massachusetts law that blocks the sale and distribution of the meat across a wide geographic swath.
The law, which was set to take effect next week, prohibits the sale or distribution of pork from hogs born to sows that were kept in gestation crates too small for the mothers to turn around. The meat cannot be sold or even transported through Massachusetts, effectively blocking sale of the protein in other states.
The law also limits Massachusetts hog farmers to selling the meat of pigs born under the new regulations. Since many growers are still converting their facilities to the new standard, the rule would have greatly limited the amount of pork that is produced locally.
The law remains in effect. But the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts agreed to delay enforcement until Aug. 23, affording restaurants, distributors and retailers almost two months to line up new suppliers or otherwise adjust.
At Baldor Specialty Foods, a distributor that serves foodservice facilities from Massachusetts to Virginia, that effort has been underway since 2016, when Massachusetts voters enacted the law through a ballot initiative.
“Logistically, it’s a big hurdle,” said Kevin Lindgren, director of merchandising for Baldor. “We’ve had three-times-a-week calls. ‘Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s what we’re going to sub.’”
Gestation crates too small to meet the new hog farming requirements are the norm in the pork business, and conversion to the larger-sized pens is costly. The changeover also cuts farms’ production space.
With the added demand for compliant pork, the meat has been increasing in price.
“We’ve certainly gotten pushback over price, but we’ve been really lucky in sourcing product,” Lindgren said. He added that Baldor has tried to blend pricing to temper the impact.
He acknowledges that the company still has non-compliant pork in its pipeline, but said Baldor was confident it could have had compliant supplies available for all its pork customers if the mid-July enforcement date had held.
The delay came at the request of trade groups serving restaurants and hotels in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, as well as from the Restaurant Law Center, the litigation arm of the National Restaurant Association.
The Massachusetts law is a nearly exact copy of a California statue that was recently validated by the U.S. Supreme Court. That law also limits pork sold within the state to meat from animals born to sows kept in certain sized gestation crates.
Because growers elsewhere would have needed to change their farm processes if they wanted to keep selling product in California, opponents of the law challenged the measure. They argued that states are not permitted under the U.S. Constitution to regulate interstate commerce. The Supreme Court disagreed and allowed the law to stand.
Massachusetts’ law was essentially put on hold until the Supreme Court ruled on the California standards, given the similarity in the measures.
The California requirement took effect July 1, but a state court allowed pork purveyors there to continue selling warehoused supplies of meat produced before July 1 under the old standards to remain on the market until Dec. 31.
California and New England account for 30% to 35% of all the pork that’s consumed in the U.S., Lindgren said. Because of that market size, he expects the vast majority of pork farmers to adjust to the standards now on the books in California and Massachusetts.
He estimated that only about 20 points of that 30% to 35% could be met by pork suppliers with the right sized gestation crates in place.
Plus, Lindgren notes, a similar law is widely expected to be proposed for New Jersey.
The Massachusetts measure focuses on what the industry calls fresh pork, or meat that is un-spiced or processed in certain ways. Sausage is not covered, but bacon is.
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