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By Natalie Willis, Reporter, Valley Ag Voice 

As the global agricultural leader with over 400 commodities, California has a major influence over the nation as a trendsetter in policy and regulation. In theory, when the Golden State adopts regulatory standards, other states follow closely behind. 

David Vogel, a retired UC Berkeley professor, termed this idea of the Golden State’s sovereignty over the nation as the “California Effect.” 

“The California Effect is this notion that when a large state like California enacts a standard, a production or product standard which could affect agriculture, then it’s likely to have broader implications firmly outside the state to other states,” Vogel said. “So, basically it’s about California’s broader impact on policies and in other jurisdictions which includes states and the federal government.” 

The California Effect has been well-studied since the theory was conceptualized, but it remains relevant to the global economy, specifically in agriculture. For instance, shortly after California approved overtime regulations for agricultural workers, Washington, New York, and Oregon followed suit.  

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Proposition 12 — an animal welfare regulation that establishes minimum space requirements for breeding pigs — the nation’s top pork-producing states adjusted practices to continue exports.  

The history of California’s control over U.S. agriculture is long-established, and state regulations meant for in-house farmers have broader implications for agriculture producers throughout the nation.  

While a law strictly enforced in California, Prop 12 has larger implications for pork producers throughout the nation. The state accounts for roughly 15% of the nation’s pork consumption but imports 99.87% of its pork products.  

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the proposition in May, ruling that states have the authority to pass laws on meat sold in the state which subsequently requires products produced outside of the state to comply. Thus, the 24-foot space requirement on all pork imported to California directly regulates how the pork industry in other states operates. 

According to Daniel Sumner, UC Davis professor of agriculture and economics, California is not a leader in the hog industry, making it an ideal starting point for this regulation. 

“The Humane Society and others would like to do this [in] lots of places, and they picked California, one because we have a proposition system, and two, nobody in California knows anything about the hog business,” Sumner said. “If you were in Iowa doing this, you know somebody’s grandfather or Uncle Fred or somebody who has 1,000 hogs, it’s a little harder to say, ‘Well, we’re gonna tell farmers how to do this.’”  

Several agricultural groups and pork industry professionals have opposed the law, explaining that it violates the U.S. Commerce Clause in the Constitution which has historically granted Congress the ability to regulate commerce. 

“We are very disappointed,” Scott Hays, president of the National Pork Producers Council said in a statement. “Allowing state overreach will increase prices for consumers and drive small farms out of business, leading to more consolidation.” 

UNITED STATES OF CALIFORNIA 

Vogel explained that California is an established leader in environmental health and safety regulations, and, as a large market, other governments elect to comply with those standards. Leading in climate change initiatives and policies has extended to the agricultural industry, specifically within the past year. 

In Oct., Governor Gavin Newsom approved two climate action laws, aptly titled the “Climate Accountability Package,” requiring large corporations that do business in California to disclose greenhouse gas emissions as well as biennially release a climate-related financial risk report.  

Due to its implications for businesses outside of the state’s regulatory power, several agricultural and business groups filed a lawsuit against California for violating the First Amendment by compelling compliance and seeking to regulate outside of the state’s jurisdiction.  

Along with the implications of a California monopoly on national regulations, the broader impact on the agricultural economy could extend beyond the notion of “As goes California, so goes the nation.” Utilizing Prop 12 as an example, Sumner explained the likelihood of other states not only complying with California’s standards but enacting their own. 

“[It’s] not just that other states will do what California did…they’ll adjust to that, but if Michigan has one law and set of regulations, and Florida has a different one, and Massachusetts is different, and Ohio is different, and Washington state…then when I go to the slaughter when I have my sow operation and I have my thousand pigs, I’ve got to be treating them in 14 different ways,” Sumner said.  

At that point, the hog industry in the Midwest may prefer a single, federal animal welfare law, Sumner noted.  

The Central Valley supplies 25% of the nation with fruits, nuts, and various other food products. Yet, state legislators who are far removed from the inner workings of the agriculture industry are ultimately the deciding influence on practice standards as well as imports and exports. 

Fourth-generation Kern County farmer Jason Giannelli explained in an email that governmental overreach poses a detriment to the food supply chain.  

“Nothing we do as humans will change the climate. Politicians who claim they can change the weather by taxing people more and destroying economies have a god-like complex and should not be in power,” Giannelli said. “In the 70s, they were telling us it was global cooling, and we were going to run out of oil. We all know they were wrong, but what policies were passed and not repealed based on those predictions? Problem is, people in power are not held accountable for their bad decisions.”  

However, according to both Sumner and Giannelli, the silver lining is that California is not the global leader it believes itself to be. Sumner referenced national newspapers with bold headlines claiming that “people are moving out of California” — some publications have called it the “California Exodus.” 

“California used to think it was the leader of the pack and everybody followed us,” Sumner said. “[But] given that we’ve got higher prices, higher unemployment, all kinds of other problems in California, there are few states saying ‘Gee, we want to be just like those guys.’” 

Giannelli echoed this sentiment, stating that California is not a political leader. 

“The rest of the states look at our policies as destructive,” Giannelli said. “Look at the mass amounts of companies leaving this state for other more business-friendly states — agriculture companies moving to Arizona and Florida to grow vegetable crops because regulations are not hindering their businesses.”  

While the California Effect is seen in the national agricultural economy, such as through Prop 12 implementation and growing dissent for the Climate Accountability Package, the primary issue is the local ramifications on Central Valley farmers.  

California agricultural regulations, including the overtime law for agricultural workers, limits on water usage, and environmental policies, have impacted agriculture by increasing the cost of doing business Giannelli explained. 

“We need to stand together as an industry and take a stand and say ‘No more,’” Giannelli said. “Look at the farmers in Europe — they protested back, and the government realized their policies were hurting their food production. It might take something that drastic to change hearts and minds.” 

FINDING SOLUTIONS 

Rather than belaboring the continuous cycle of harmful regulations, local farmers and ranchers can take part in several points of advocacy. For instance, the California Farm Bureau successfully advocated to amend Senate Bill 389 which would have given the State Water Board authority to investigate water rights claims at will without evidentiary support. 

In a prior interview, Senior Policy Advocate for CFBF Alexandra Tollette Biering explained that the bureau called for the SWB to utilize an information order on a water rights claim, additionally requiring the board to explain the request’s validity with attached evidence. 

The amendments pushed by the Farm Bureau changed SB 389 into less of a threat to agricultural water rights holders by altering the nature of the bill from enforcement to an amendment of the original water code, clarifying the SWB’s existing power to collect information. 

“What we ended up doing was working with them to set certain thresholds and certain requirements that the water board had to meet in order to ask about a water rights claim,” Biering said.  

Along with advocating on a state level, local organizations such as the Kern County Farm Bureau provide farmers with a platform to address regulations affecting their bottom line. A newly implemented program, “tailgate talks” is put on by KCFB, connecting agricultural community members to influential stakeholders with a platform to address prominent issues.  

The future of agricultural production in the Central Valley lies in the hands of farmers, regardless of what politicians believe. 

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