USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) reports that since 2002, 14 states have enacted laws governing their animal agricultural industries’ pre-slaughter production practices. These restrictions to boost the welfare of farm animals may also be causing or at least contributing to current shortages and price increases.

ERS found the policies have focused on the housing of animals involved in the pork, veal, and egg industries, often restricting production practices or sales of noncompliant animal products.

The law to impose housing standards on all farms without regard to their location if they wish to produce for the California market is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Proposition 12 case.

ERS sought to “better understand the timing, scope, and geographic distribution of market impacts on livestock industries, as well as the legal and legislative environment surrounding these policies.”

Among the findings:

— Eleven states have passed bans on the use of veal crates or gestation crates for sows. By 2026, gestation crate bans will cover 7 percent of the U.S. breeding sow herd, but nearly 18 percent of breeding operations. Veal crate bans covered 13 percent of U.S. operations by the end of 2022.

— Ten states have enacted policies that prohibit the confinement of hens beyond a minimum space requirement on the use of cases in poultry and egg production. By 2026, 17 percent of U.S. egg-laying operations will be covered by these restrictions, an increase from 3 percent of operations in 2021.

Sales bans on eggs produced in non-compliant operations will reach nearly 25 percent of the U.S. population by 2026. Cage-free egg production increased in recent years, along with more legislation and retailer and food-service pledges with 24 percent of U.S. laying hands kept in case-free operations as of 2021.

The ERS study says international trade can also be affected by animal welfare standards. States with bans on confined or caged egg production account for more than 41 percent of U.S. shell egg exports.

The ERS reports that state policies do not impact shell egg imports to the United States. And all pork imports to the states with impending retail sales restrictions originate in the European Union or Canada where production policies or voluntary commitments are driving a trend toward gestation-crate-free production

Animal welfare issues do come up in trade agreement negotiations, according to the ERS study.

The egg shortages sweeping the United States are first blamed on the Avian Flu outbreaks that began in North America at about this time 2022, and the switch over to cage-free systems that at this time is not keeping up with demand.

In its latest update, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta reports almost 58 million birds in domestic poultry flocks in 47 states have been lost to avian flu during the past year. Another 5,552 wild birds in all 50 states were found infected.

There was one human case of Avian Flu last year. The patient fully recovered.

California is clearly bearing the brunt of the current egg shortage. USDA reports the price for a dozen large eggs jumped to $7.37 last week in California, up from $4.83 a month earlier. The shortages will continue until the supply of cage-free eggs catches up with demand, and that could take most of 2023.

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