Maintaining proper humane handling practices is essential to the success of the protein industry. As the world evolves, the industry must evolve with it, adjusting to new standards and practices. With the implementation of legislation like Prop 12 and Massachusetts Question 3, every worker in the meat supply chain must be properly informed on all best practices for humane handling of livestock and poultry.

The industry was concerned about the potential impact of Prop 12 on the pork industry, especially within California. On the production side, Prop 12 has had a rather small impact on the California pork industry, said the National Pork Producers Council. This is not the case for the rest of California’s pork industry: retail, foodservice and consumers alike have seen negative impacts from the Prop 12 legislation.

The most recent USDA data shows that there is much less pork being sold at retail, and that pork prices are showing significant increases from where they were at this time last year, according to NPPC.

Despite concern that other states will follow in California’s footsteps, NPPC assured the industry that no states have followed the Prop 12 precedent. “Prior to Prop. 12’s adoption, some states developed rules to regulate hog farms within the state, but other than Massachusetts Question 3, they did not ban the sale of pork or otherwise limited consumer choice,” NPPC said.

While Prop 12 does uphold high standards for animal welfare, it comes at a costly detriment to the pork industry. Prop 12-compliant product prices have increased, and California’s retail share has also declined for national fresh pork consumption — not including bacon. 

Though the proposed Massachusetts Question 3 legislation would have a detrimental impact on the pork industry, barring interstate commerce and severely disrupting the supply chain, NPPC said that the legislation has had a small impact on the industry.

“One of the original regulatory provisions in the regulation … has since been put on hold through a court-ordered consent agreement,” NPPC said. “NPPC and the restaurant industry argued that the provision raised significant constitutional problems for interstate commerce and entered into a consent agreement with the state of Massachusetts that prevents the provision from being enforced.”

To avoid negative impacts from welfare-based legislation like Prop 12 and Massachusetts Question 3, Congress is making efforts to bar more states from passing similar legislation in the Farm Bill, NPPC said. 

Though consumers are concerned about animal welfare, their purchases are not driven by welfare practices. Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics, said, “In total, about one-third of Americans weigh animal welfare into their purchases, but for most the answer lies in claims based meat, such as organic, humanely raised, pasture raised, etc. depending on the animal and the consumers' preference.” Animal welfare itself does not determine shopping choices, but humane and “better-for” practices are driving consumer purchasing behavior.

Luckily for the industry, meat is not going anywhere. Though some consumers choose to avoid animal-based protein, the number of Americans doing so is very small. “About 4% to 7% of Americans choose not to consume animal protein at all and the primary drivers are typically animal welfare and planet,” Roerink said. To regain those consumers who choose to avoid animal-based meat due to welfare concerns, producers can report on their humane handling practices and how they ensure animal welfare.

To track proper welfare and humane handling practices, producers can utilize the Meat Institute’s Protein PACT, which aims to optimize the industry’s sustainability practices for people, animals and environment.

In their 2023 Continuous Improvement Report, the Protein PACT logged progress and goals on various sustainability initiatives. According to the report, “By 2025, 100% of Meat Institute members who handle animals will pass third-party animal transport and handling audits, and 100% of members will require all suppliers to implement mandatory employee training and follow species-specific standards for animal care.”

Practicing, maintaining and promoting humane handling and animal welfare not only utilizes best practices, but also reassures consumers that their purchases align with their priorities.

For smaller processors looking to ensure best practices for humane handling, the Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network’s program manager David Zarling recommended taking ownership of animal welfare practices. 

“This especially [goes] for very small establishments because … many don’t have robust daily audit programs or quality assurance personnel making sure processes work according to spec,” he said. “Having a strong training program with annual retrains and audits is essential, and I’ve seen this work with crews as small as 3 people.”

Zarling recommended reaching out to consulting groups or the Humane Handling Institute at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls for training help. Otherwise, he said processors can consult with educational resources, partner with local producers who have solid reputations for animal welfare and establish customer expectations for hauling and unloading livestock.