- In the midterm elections Tuesday, voters returned mixed results on three ballot measures impacting the food and grocery industry. Oregon voters rejected Measure 103 — which would ban all new grocery taxes — with 57.2% voting against the ban on taxing groceries, according to unofficial results on Wednesday morning, with more than 1.3 million total votes counted.
- Washington's Initiative 1634, which would also ban all new grocery taxes, passed with 54.8% of the vote with 1.9 million votes counted, according to unofficial results on Wednesday morning.
- In California, Proposition 12, which establishes strict rules for confinement of chickens, calves for veal and pigs, passed with 61% of the vote with 6.7 million votes counted, according to unofficial results. No farm will be able to sell veal, eggs or pork in California without meeting the confinement space requirements.
These state initiatives could bring change to the food and beverage industry nationwide. Two of three measures that would impact the industries passed, setting precedent for other states to propose similar initiatives in future elections — or serving as a warning to not bring some of these issues up to referendum.
Taxes on grocery sales saw split results in Washington and Oregon. The stakes were different for the states, which showed in the financial contributions to the campaigns and the outcome of the votes.
It's not surprising that the initiative passed in Washington, but failed in Oregon. Supporters poured more than triple the donations into the Washington campaign than the Oregon one. The campaign for both ballot issues attracted substantial support from big soda companies, which have been the subject of controversial taxes enacted by some municipalities nationwide. In Washington, one committee registered to support the initiative raised more than $20 million and the top donors were Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Red Bull North America and Keurig Dr Pepper, according to Ballotpedia. The campaign supporting the measure in Oregon raised about $5.7 million.
Another big difference could have contributed to the results. The proposed ban in Oregon would have made it so that the state could not implement a sales tax on groceries, even though there are no current or proposed taxes that it would have impacted. The measure was seen as a preemptive strike against taxes on soda.
In Washington, Seattle started taxing sugary drinks in January and has collected more than $4 million from the first quarter of tax payments — making the stakes higher, since other cities had been contemplating implementing taxes of their own. Given Washington's success, plus legislative moves in states including Michigan and Arizona, it's likely that similar ballot measures or state legislation may appear elsewhere in the future.
Meanwhile in California, voters decided to pass a measure regulating the amount of space farm animals have in cages and crates. These results could increase costs to some farmers since they will need to change their production methods, which, as opponents argued beforehand, would raise prices for veal, eggs and pork.
How would animal confinement change? Starting in 2020, the measure would ban the sale of eggs from hens confined to less than one square foot of floor space per hen, as well as the sale of calves in areas with less than 43 square feet of space per animal. Then beginning in 2022, egg-laying hens would have to be kept cage-free and breeding pigs would need at least 24 square feet of usable floor space per animal.
While the measure passed yesterday, it could still face hurdles before it is implemented as a similar initiative in Massachusetts faces pending litigation. The ballot measure in Massachusetts passed in 2010, and scheduled to take effect in 2022, mandates all pork, veal and eggs farmed and sold comes from animals not confined to small areas. But the initiative has faced backlash from critics in the farming industry who say it would force out-of-state farmers to comply and that violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce between states. Currently 13 states are suing Massachusetts to stop the cage-free egg voter initiative.
The California measure could see similar legal struggles if other states don't want to comply with these new standards to sell their products in the state. But if both the California and Massachusetts ballot measures withstand the potential legal battles ahead, more states across the country could set new standards for animal cages.