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Judge tosses six-state suit over egg law

By Staff | Oct 8, 2014

“Now we renew our efforts at additional litigation and legislation.” —Rep. Steve King R-Iowa

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by Missouri and five other states asking the court to strike down a California law barring the sale of eggs in the state produced by hens in cramped living conditions.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the suit on Oct. 3, giving California a major victory in a cross-country battle that pitted animal protections against the economic interests of farmers in the South and Midwest.

Mueller said the states lacked legal standing to sue because they failed to show that the California law does genuine harm to their citizenry instead of just possible future damage to some egg producers.

“It is patently clear plaintiffs are bringing this action on behalf of a subset of each state’s egg farmers,” Mueller wrote in the decision, “not on behalf of each state’s population generally.”

She also ruled that the suit can’t be refiled or amended, though the states can appeal.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed the lawsuit in February challenging the law that is set to take effect in January 2015. Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa joined in March.

The states contended the California law violates the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution by effectively imposing new requirements on out-of-state farmers.

The six states combine to produce 20 billion eggs a year, of which nearly 2 billion are sold in California. Koster contended Missouri farmers would have to spend about $120 million to remodel their cages to comply with California’s law or lose out on sales to a crucial market.

After-hours phone messages seeking comment from all the attorneys generals involved were not immediately returned.

But in a statement released when the lawsuit was filed, Koster said the case is “not just about farming practices” but about “whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state’s citizens, who cannot vote them out of office.”

Rep Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced Protect Interstate Commerce Act, which the California lawsuit originates from, was attached to the House Farm Bill during markup in the House Agriculture Committee last year, but was ultimately not accepted with the final farm bill.

This act would have prohibited any state from enacting laws that place restrictions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within the state, but are produced in other states.

“It is not surprising that the egg lawsuit was rejected by the 9th Circuit on a technicality,” King said in a written statement on Oct. 3. “California’s law regulating egg producers in other states is unconstitutional and anti-consumer.

“It is trade protectionism for California egg producers who are handicapped by a foolish California policy that would regulate them out of business without protection from competition from Iowa and other states.

“Now we renew our efforts at additional litigation and legislation. If we fall short of fixing this problem, the result will be trade retaliation from other state legislatures.

“It’s hard to push for free trade with foreign countries when we have to admit that we can’t, at least for now, maintain free trade between the states.

“I think I can do without California wine longer than they can without our eggs.”

The Humane Society of America, which helped defend the law in court, praised the move.

“We are delighted that Judge Mueller has dismissed this baseless lawsuit, and ordered that it can never be filed again,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, the organization’s chief counsel for animal protection litigation. “The judge’s opinion not only found that Attorney General Koster and the other attorneys general do not even have standing to file their case, but that their entire theory for why California’s food safety and hen protection law will harm egg farmers is totally without merit.”

California voters approved a 2008 ballot measure that required pigs, calves and egg-laying hens to be raised with enough space to allow them to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs.

California legislators later expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs in the state from any hens that were not raised in compliance with its animal care standards.

Larry Kershner, Farm News news editor, added to this report.

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