Egg-producing states pile on against California law

Mar 6, 2014

Hens raised by Austin-based Vital Farms have 108 sq. feet of room to roam, per bird. California's law requires enough room for a bird to stand up and spread their wings.
Credit Randol White

A growing number of states are joining a recently filed lawsuit aimed at bringing down a California law regulating egg producers.

Representatives from Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Oklahoma signed onto a lawsuit today, that was filed last month in Fresno's Eastern District Court by Missouri's Attorney General, Chris Koster.

The major egg producing states are worried about a law set to take effect next year that would require out-of-state farmers provide enough room for chickens to stand up and spread their wings, if they're to sell their eggs in California.

In 2008, California voters passed Prop. 2, known as the Farm Animal Protection Law, and two years later lawmakers in Sacramento tacked on out-of-state producers to those requirements in order to level the playing field for California egg producers.

The lawsuit claims the California law violates the interstate commerce clause. Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa—the top egg producing state in the nation—announced on his website today that the "burdensome law from the State of California effectively regulates the industry across state lines, hurts Iowa agriculture and is detrimental to Iowa egg producers."

The Humane Society of America responded to today's news by saying the states bringing the lawsuit are "wasting taxpayer money" and "undermining animal welfare."

“The underlying basis of this lawsuit is to allow the federal government to trump state law as it wishes on agriculture policy,” said Kevin Fulton, a Nebraska cattle rancher who heads the HSUS Nebraska Agriculture Council. “Whether it’s setting requirements for the import of livestock infected with brucellosis or tuberculosis, for firewood infested with termites, or for eggs from hens confined in barren battery cages that are more likely to carry Salmonella, states have a right to make their own decisions.”

According to the American Egg Board, the top U.S. egg producing states are Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and California. Iowa has near twice the number of egg laying hens as Ohio.