Making Prop 12 Compliant Pork Accessible

CLAREMONT, N.H. — Since the early 1970s, producers have used gestation crates to house sow for the duration of their pregnancy. The sow lives, eats, and sleeps in a two-and-half-by-seven-foot stall. They cannot move around freely or socialize. Producers justify these long-standing, industry-wide practices claiming they nurture and protect the sow from other, more aggressive pigs, preventing fights and potential injury to both the sow and the piglet.

Over the past decade, the use of gestation crates has undergone increasing scrutiny from animal activist groups and state legislation. Consumers’ growing demand for the ethical treatment of animals has led to a massive shift in the supply chain, with an increasing amount of humanely raised meats claiming their rightful space on retail shelves.

California’s Prop 12 Animal Confinement Initiative requires producers to provide at least 24 square feet of floor space for each breeding pig, 1 square foot for each egg-laying hen, and 43 square feet for calves raised for veal. Under the new ruling, farm owners and operators cannot knowingly sell or distribute fresh pork products into the state of California from animals housed in a cruel manner. Prop 12 requires that animals can lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely.

Prop 12: Producers Pushback

Despite the research that concludes gestation crates cause physical and psychological harm to animals, promote lameness, weaker bones and muscles from lack of movement, and results in abrasion, cardiovascular, digestive, and urinary tract issues, confinement practices remain commonplace in the pork industry. Three-quarters of the country’s sows are confined indoors, in side-by-side gestation crates placed on cement floors.

We must ask ourselves why, with proven research and the obvious moral dilemma, these practices remain so prevalent in our country’s farming industry? The answer is simple. Profit. When producers place pregnant sows in gestation crates, they can fit more sows on their farms and maximize space, ultimately increasing their supply and in turn, their bottom line. But at what expense?

California’s Prop 12 space requirements have raised concerns for pork producers nationwide, who claim the new ruling would be detrimental to both hog farmers and consumers. Non-complying producers will be required to invest in farming infrastructure to meet the minimum space requirements, a cost that they claim will ultimately be passed onto consumers.

With the requirement taking effect in only a few short months, compliant pork supply could potentially fall short. Despite growing concerns, the Supreme Court has denied legal challenges brought forth by leading, industry organizations, and to date, the January 2022 deadline remains in place.

Committed to Crate Free Farming: duBreton Leads the Way

As a third-generation, agri-farm family, duBreton has been raising hogs humanely for decades and was one of the first pork producers to apply for animal welfare certification. Respect for the animal is one of the company’s core values. duBreton farms not only meet, but exceed Prop 12 standards. The company’s network of more than 300 family farms do not use gestation crates or engage in physical alterations of the animals like tail docking or teeth clipping. They provide gestational sows with bedding materials to build their nests and implement responsible rearing practices for the entire lifecycle of the animal, from birth to harvest. “We can’t understand why sow gestation crates still exist,” says Vincent Breton, duBreton President. “Keeping a pregnant sow confined without the ability to move around is simply inhumane.”

duBreton leads North America in the supply of Certified Humane Raised and Handled®, Global Animal Partnership (G.A.P.) Animal Welfare Certified®, and organic pork. With nationwide distribution across America, as well as in 50 countries worldwide, the company applauds the Prop 12 movement and is happy to see the industry making strides towards total respect for the animal. “We realize how difficult this can be for producers because we’ve asked the tough questions of ourselves and invested heavily in our operations. We believed in humane farming long before the recent trends. It required us to take significant risks, but we knew that ultimately, it was the right thing to do,” says Vincent. “There’s no argument, animals deserve respect and quality of life. At the end of the day, we need to make the tough choices that get the industry producing foods more ethically.”

Continuous improvement is a critical part of the duBreton culture. In 2015, duBreton committed to raising 300,000 crate-free pigs by 2018 and banned the use of electric prods on their farms. Less stress and better living conditions allow the animals to express natural behaviors, drastically improving their quality of life. “Pigs are social and hierarchical animals. They are not aggressive by nature, so the argument that hogs need to be kept in gestation crates for their protection is misconstrued. Instead, we need to ask ourselves why the hogs are becoming aggressive? It’s due to mismanagement and the producer’s inability to meet the basic needs of the animal,” says Vincent.

duBreton Certified Humane Raised and Handled®, G.A.P. Animal Welfare Certified®, and organic hogs are never administered antibiotics, added growth hormones, or fed animal byproducts. G.A.P. audits every single farm on an annual, seasonal rotation to ensure standards are being met year-round and no farm is exempt. “There are over 100 criteria we must maintain at all times under our animal welfare certified and organic programs,” says Vincent. “We offer total transparency and we’re very proud of that.”

North Country Smokehouse: Prop 12 Compliant Bacon 

There are growing fears surrounding the supply of compliant bacon under the new Prop 12 mandate, and it’s being referred to as ‘The Great Bacon Crisis of 2022’. In 2019, California consumed roughly 7% of all U.S. pork production, approximately 167 million pounds per month. However, California-born pigs accounted for only 12.5 million pounds during the same period. This significant gap in supply and demand is raising concerns for consumers, retailers, and foodservice end-users who fear shortages and higher prices.

North Country Smokehouse, a subsidiary of duBreton, is a vertically integrated, U.S.-based brand with a national footprint. The company produces handcrafted, small-batch bacon, sausage, ham, and deli meats for retail and foodservice customers nationwide “We’re prepared to help our customers navigate the upcoming requirements, secure their supply, and lessen the impact on their business,” says Aaron Corbett, North Country Smokehouse, CEO.

North Country’s relationship with duBreton has aided in their evolution towards humanely raised and organic offerings over the last five years. “Our bacon is Prop 12 compliant. These standards are not new to us, we’ve been doing it this way for years,” says Corbett. “North Country Smokehouse doesn’t operate off the market. We source our pork bellies from our very own family-farm network. It allows us to maintain our quality standards and offer more consistent pricing. That’s incredibly important to our customers. It’s more critical now, under Prop 12 than ever before.” Aaron concludes.

With roughly 3 months left before the Prop 12 mandates take effect, North Country Smokehouse is working tirelessly with new and existing customers to plan reserves and manage supply. Retailers and end-users who take an active approach to source compliant bacon can significantly lessen the risks associated with potential shortages and inflated pricing. 

About duBreton & North Country Smokehouse

The Canadian-based company, duBreton, acquired North Country Smokehouse in 2015, following a successful partnership spanning more than twenty years. The companies operate independently in their respective locations with one goal in mind, to supply retailers, restaurants, and consumers with sustainably sourced, fresh, and further processed pork.

With consumers growing demand for certified humane and organic pork, both duBreton and North Country Smokehouse have earned their rightful place among North America’s agri-food leaders, offering a complete range of pork products from pigs raised and processed to the highest standards of quality and animal care.