New pork rules could affect more than the cost of chops and ribs

Working Lunch: The strategy that changed what items can be sold in California, Massachusetts and New Jersey could be refocused on other protein sources, driving up the cost of beef and poultry.

Even if there’s no pork on a restaurant chain’s menu, the operation could see a sharp upswing in food costs because of the new animal welfare standards California, Massachusetts and New Jersey have set for pig farmers, according to this week’s Working Lunch podcast.

Opponents of the new farming regulations have warned that the resulting rise in pork prices will boost demand for other proteins, lifting the cost of beef and poultry accordingly. But far greater upward pressure could come from animal-welfare advocates turning their focus to how other sources of protein are farmed, according to Michael Formica, chief legal strategist for the National Pork Producers Council and a guest on this week’s episode.

California, Massachusetts and New Jersey have outlawed the sale of uncooked or “whole” pork products that come from pigs that were born to sows kept in gestation crates too small for the animals to turn around. Because pens of that size had become the norm for growers, much of the pork industry has to retool its operations to accommodate larger pens, at what the farmers say is a considerable cost.

“Chicken farmers are looking at some of the same dynamics,” Formica told Working Lunch co-hosts Joe Kefauver and Franklin Coley, principals in the Orlando-based government-affairs consultancy Align Public Strategies. “The cattle industry might be looking at something similar to this.”

The strategy of setting upstream standards for any party that wants to sell its goods within a state could even be used to promote social or broad economic objectives beyond the state’s boundaries, Formica suggested.

“What if California says, ‘If you want to sell your product in our state, you have to pay a certain minimum wage in all your operations,’” said the association official.

For a deeper understanding of how the new pork restrictions could affect far more than the cost of chops and ribs, download the episode of Working Lunch from wherever you get your podcasts.

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