The Welfare Implications of Proposition 12 as it Relates to Breeding Sows and Gilts
Proposition 12 is a ballot proposition in the state of California that regulates housing for breeding sows and gilts by banning the use of gestation stalls. Sow housing, more specifically, individual confinement in stalls during gestation, is a controversial topic in animal agriculture. As society becomes increasingly solicitous of the treatment of food animals, there has been and will likely be an increasing amount of proposed legislation to ensure humane treatment. While it is crucial to ensure the humane treatment of food animals, legislation must first be founded in science to be effective. In the case of Proposition 12, the potential to positively promote the welfare of breeding female pigs has been scarcely studied. Proposition 12 did not go into effect until 2022, and multiple legal challenges have stalled both implementation and industry-wide responses to adopt compliant housing. While no scientific studies have been conducted thus far using Proposition 12 in name, several previously published studies have utilized treatment groups that are Proposition 12 compliant in nature. Critical review of the sow behavior, health and production results described in these experiments suggest that, as it is written, Proposition 12 likely will not achieve its intended purpose of promoting sow welfare because it focuses on one singular aspect of swine management (floor space allowance) and fails to consider all other components. It is the position of this paper that pigs can be humanely and responsibly raised in any housing system if all aspects of swine rearing are considered holistically. Consequently, the potential for legislation that mandates one style of swine rearing over another to improve animal welfare is questioned. With that said, however, it is currently unclear how to analyze the sow’s affective state when housed individually or in groups during the post-weaning and early gestation stage. Accordingly, the true welfare implications of Proposition 12 will remain undetermined until research is conducted about how housing systems in pig rearing affect all three realms of animal welfare.