A new California law could soon make bacon and other pork products scarce as producers complain it'll be a struggle to meet the new requirements.
Proposition 12 was overwhelmingly approved, by voters, in 2018. It mandates more space for breeding pigs, egg-laying chickens, and veal calves.
Producers that can't comply, can't sell in California, which consumes a lot of those products. While commercial farmers consider their options, a small community of Texas pig farmers thinks the law is the first step toward a more humane life for the animals and better products for consumers.
In Bastrop County, Mockingbird Farm is part of a growing community of farmers raising animals organically, and in pastures, rather than massive commercial farms where livestock is kept confined almost all its life. Farmers Nolan and Kristie Wehe started the operation six years ago with a specific mission.
"There is meat available that's raised by farmers who treat their animals well, who are ethical about how they do things," says Kristie.
At Mockingbird, the pigs are allowed to live their best pig lives, until the day they're brought to market.
"It can roam the woods, eat grass, dig up roots, and just have a normal pig-day, (before) one bad moment, at the very end," says Nolan, "But it's whole life, it does what it's natural doing."
The Wehe's say the payoff is better-tasting, healthier meat. At $12 dollars a pound, it's also more expensive. Commercial farmers complain about the additional costs of accommodating the new California law and perhaps the rest of the country will be prohibitive. Smaller farmers, like the Wehe's, think it's a step toward connecting with where our food comes from.
"I'm not sure they're aware of the cost difference between raising the animals the way we do and the way the confinement industry does," says Kristie. "But I think they are asking for a better product. I think they are wanting animals to be treated better."
The pork industry has spent the last three years trying to fight California's Prop 12. They say logistics may require the new rules to be applied across the country, in order to work.
In July, a federal appeals court ruled against their arguments and many will not be prepared to ship pork to California, in the new year.
Farmers like the Wehe's say they'd like to see more farms, like theirs, focused on feeding communities, rather than worrying about feeding the whole nation.