States take crack at California egg law
— California cannot dictate hen cage requirements, other states declare
Five states have announced they are joining Missouri’s litigation against the state of California over hen housing requirements that would restrict the sale of eggs shipped to California from other states.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced his state would join the lawsuit filed last month by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster over the California cage requirements. Also joining the suit are Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Iowa is the nation’s top state for layer hens, producing 14.8 billion eggs in 2013, nearly double the volume of any other state. Ohio is second with about 7.8 billion. In a news release, Branstad said California’s law attempts to regulate the egg industry across state lines.
“Iowa is by far the leading egg-producing state in the nation,” Branstad said. “This law is an unwarranted burden being imposed on Iowa’s producers by another state and violates the Interstate Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.”
The six states are suing the attorney general and agriculture secretary of California, arguing the Golden State is violating the Commerce Clause of the Constitution with a state statute imposing hen layer space requirements for all eggs sold in California.
The litigation comes after members of Congress rejected a provision drafted by Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King that would have prevented states from regulating agricultural products from other states that met USDA or FDA standards. King specifically argued that California’s egg law was unconstitutionally attempting to regulate interstate commerce. The provision was stripped from the farm bill during conference negotiations because of opposition from other congressmen who argued King’s provision would outlaw a number of state laws regulating agriculture.
The egg industry had attempted to create a national standard for cages in the farm bill as well, but Congress rejected that proposal too, in part because of the role the Humane Society of the U.S. played in promoting a federal standard.
California voters approved larger hen cage requirements in a 2008 ballot measure. To avoid putting their own producers at a competitive disadvantage, California’s legislature then approved a law that required all eggs sold in the state to meet the same standard by 2015. That state mandate on out-of-state egg producers is at the heart of the new legal challenge.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange called it “preposterous” for California to tell Alabama growers how they must produce eggs. “This is not an animal-welfare issue; it is about California’s attempt to protect its economy from its own job killing laws by extending those laws to everyone else in the country.”
Strange also noted that if California can dictate how other states produce eggs, then it could expand into other areas such as growing crops and raising cattle. Nebraska officials made similar arguments in their statements about joining the litigation.
“There is concern that the California egg production standards create a precedent that would negatively impact Nebraska agriculture,” said Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman in announcing his state’s involvement.
“This is about protecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers from the potential for regulatory burdens that hamper interstate trade. It’s not only about protecting our egg producers. This is also about the precedent this sets for our beef, swine and dairy producers.”
In 2013, Nebraska produced about 2.8 billion eggs; Alabama and Missouri each produced about 2.2 billion eggs; Kentucky produced 1.1 billion; and Oklahoma produced about 725 million, according to USDA reports.
California saw its layer numbers drop from 2012 to 2013 by about 1.5 million chickens. Egg production in the state declined slightly as a result to just over 5 billion eggs in 2013, about 6 percent less than 2012 totals. — Chris Clayton, DTN