Ag states join Missouri’s challenge of egg law
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Five other states on March 6 joined Missouri’s effort to strike down a California law barring the sale of eggs produced by hens kept it cages that don’t meet size and space requirements.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit last month in California challenging the egg law that is set to take effect in 2015. Attorneys general for the states contend the California law violates the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by effectively imposing new requirements on out-of-state farmers.
“This case is not just about farming practices. At stake is whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state’s citizens, who cannot vote them out of office,” Koster said in a written statement.
Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa joined Missouri’s lawsuit. Missouri is behind only Iowa in the number of eggs sold in California. Iowa is the top egg producer in the nation.
Rep.Steve King, R-Iowa, said litigation in this issue was inevitable.
“So far, I have been taking the lead on this three-year effort to restore the Commerce Clause of the Constitution,” King said, “and protect Iowa and American producers, including egg producers, from overreach by California.
“The best way was to pass a legislative fix, which I will continue to pursue. Litigation is now the quickest and most likely way to resolve the issue.
“I’m also hopeful that many states will file suit against California and pass resolutions calling upon California to repeal AB1437. This conflict can only be resolved in favor of Iowa and the states because California’s law is clearly unconstitutional.”
King said the Constitution establishes up a 50-state free trade zone prohibiting individual states from regulating interstate commerce by granting Congress the exclusive authority to regulate it.
“California’s law is a trade barrier,” King said, “constructed for the purpose of protecting California egg producers from a competitive disadvantage. This law reaches beyond the borders of that state and attempts to assert authority over producers in other states.
“How can we negotiate free trade agreements with other nations if we allow California to set up trade protection for their producers and impose billions of costs on the other states?”
The Humane Society of the United States criticized the states’ attempt to block the law and said it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Wayne Pacelle, HSUS’ president and chief executive officer, said states are letting politics “trump their better judgment” about having minimal standards on animal care.
“It’s just not appropriate to jam six or eight birds in tiny spaces so they cannot move,” he said.
California voters approved a ballot initiative in 2008 that required egg-laying hens, pigs and calves to be raised with enough space to allow the animals to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs.
After voters approved the initiative, concerns were raised that the measure would put California egg farmers at a competitive disadvantage with counterparts in other states.
Pacelle said there were food safety concerns about eggs produced in conditions that did not meet California’s rules. California legislators then expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs in the state from any hens that were not raised in compliance with California’s animal care standards.
The six states suing to block the law produce 20 billion eggs annually, of which nearly 2 billion are sold in California.
Koster contends Missouri farmers would have to spend about $120 million to remodel their cages to comply with California’s law or forgo sales to one of their most important markets.
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