Good Intentions Don’t Guarantee Good Policy

Laws from California are making headlines once again. Proposition 12, the ballot initiative passed in 2018, decreed that all pork, veal, and whole eggs sold in that state were from animals raised in pens with a minimum size. The voters of California were led to believe that current slate of practices by farmers; informed by veterinarians, animal health researchers, and their own bottom lines, were tantamount to cruelty. In fact, the website set up to promote Prop 12 was www.PreventCruelty.org, and several of the key backers were ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States (PETA, notably, was opposed to the law, arguing that it wasn’t enough.)

California voters, like voters everywhere, didn’t want to be complicit in this apparent cruelty, so they supported Prop 12 at the ballot box enthusiastically, with the measure passing 63% yea to 37% no. Since then, the state has been unable to write the rules and guidelines for how retailers should source pork, the measure has been sued repeatedly and lost several of those cases, and enforcement of the law, which went into effect January 1st, is currently stayed by state judge while the rules are written.

Meanwhile, it was announced late last week that the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a challenge to Prop 12 brought the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council; with a decision likely late this year. All of this is to say, while voters may feel like they did the right thing, the policy created has turned an entire industry upside down and will raise costs for those least able to afford them.

Another California law has come under similar fire; Reuters reports that Senate Bill 1383 went into effect January 1st as well, and, though also well intentioned, things are not working out to plan. SB 1383 is a law requiring food retailers to divert edible food that would have gone to a landfill to instead be “recovered”, typically by partnering with a food bank. This law is designed to do two things; first: help feed struggling families by sending more food to food banks, and 2: to reduce methane production in landfills from decaying organic matter. Both good goals in an era of climbing food prices and ongoing fear about the climate.

Unfortunately, the law as written seems to make a lot of sense for the major metro areas – there are ample food retailers and food donation recipients are often located close by. There are some bugs in the system, to be sure, but it seems as if it is largely working. However, those same conditions don’t exist throughout all of California; but the law does. Reuters reports that over five hundred rural towns and counties because they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with such a large change. One food bank director said they are spending 40% more on fuel and that is cutting down the amount of food they can buy in bulk.

In both cases, preventing animal cruelty and feeding our hungry neighbors are truly worthy goals but these two laws highlight the challenges in crafting public policy that makes sense across wide geographic regions and through large swaths of the economy; there will be consequences of these laws, both intentional and unintentional. As the 2022 midterm election campaign cycle heats up, I hope we can all remember that good intentions don’t guarantee good policy.

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