Minnesota hog farmers shoulder weight of adapting to California’s law

Todd Marotz oversees thousands of pigs at several farms in south-central Minnesota, but he guesses only 20% of those barns are compliant to send hogs to California.

A new Golden State law took effect Jan. 1 that requires that any pork sold there must come from operations that offer livestock more space than in past practice.

As the most populous state in America, California holds some sway over U.S. hog farmers, consuming about 14% of the nation’s pork supply. Many of the nation’s hogs come from the Midwest, including Minnesota, which ranks second behind Iowa in number of pigs raised.

Other states may follow. In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a measure banning the sale of pork products from sows raised in pens. A similar bill has been introduced in New York, rankling farmers in the Midwest.

“It’s California kind of dictating to Minnesota producers how to raise pigs,” said Marotz, who is head of production for Gaylord’s Wakefield Pork, which raises some 50,000 hogs across the region. “We were hoping the Supreme Court would resolve this, but they failed to do that.”

Pork producer associations fought the law, arguing it amounted to one state telling farmers in other states how to raise their pigs. But the law received the U.S. high court’s blessing last spring.

Animal welfare groups say the law was necessary to change factory farming, which often includes close confinement for livestock, including sows — female, birthing pigs — contained for long durations in gestation crates.

The industry argued such crates prevent the sows from harming each other or workers. Now, many farmers and processors are resigned to accepting the rules.