Broken eggs on black background top view. mactrunk/ThinkstockPhotos

Missouri scrambles California’s eggs

Egg production costs soar nationwide, thanks to California’s cage regulations. Now other states are fighting back.

Yesterday, the Attorney General of Missouri filed a Motion for Leave to File a Bill of Complaint in the United States Supreme Court, charging California with violations of the Constitution.

The Bill of Complaint “…involves a single State’s (California) attempt to dictate a manner of agricultural production in every other State.” Finally other states are standing up to California’s bullying tactics. California, with its friends at the Humane Society of the United States, has increased enormously the cost of egg production in numerous states. 

Twelve states have joined together to challenge California in the U.S. Supreme Court. The reason Missouri and eleven other states have sued in the U.S. Supreme Court is that Article III of the U.S. Constitution declares that disputes where states are parties and there is a controversy between the states, the Supreme Court shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction over such actions.

The States’ Bill of Complaint is composed of 101 paragraphs. The States want the Supreme Court to declare California’s regulations relating to the size of cages for hens be declared invalid under the Supremacy Clause because the regulations are preempted by the federal Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA).  

They also want the California egg cage size regulations declared invalid because they violate the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Many have never heard of the Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA). The EPIA requires uniformity of labeling, standards, and other provisions which allow for free movement of eggs and egg products in interstate commerce. According to the complaint, the EPIA displaces any state or local regulation for eggs shipped in interstate commerce. The States believe the EPIA “preempts” any state or local law under the Supremacy Clause. 

Remember Prop 2?

Proposition 2 went into effect in California at the start of 2015, and required that “a person shall not tether or confine any covered animal, including any egg-laying hen, on a farm, for all or the majority of any day, in a manner that prevents such animal from: (a) Lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs; and (b) Turning around freely.”

Proposition 2 imposed a $1,000 fine and 180 days in county jail if the regulation was violated.

California farmers immediately claimed Proposition 2 placed them at a competitive disadvantage compared to egg farmers in other states. The farmers feared their costs would be 20% higher on average than non-California farmers.

To remedy this inequity the California legislature passed a bill which imposed California’s Proposition 2 requirements on non-California farmers who shipped eggs to California.

As a result, on January 1, 2015, no egg farmer or producer could sell shelled eggs to California consumers if the egg-laying hen did not have a minimum 116 sq. inches of floor space per bird.

Impact on other states

Missouri and other states claimed their farmers have already or will incur costs between $228 million to $912 million to comply with California’s regulation. Moreover, the Bill of Complaint claims “…egg prices have increased nationwide by as much at 1.73 to 5.12%.”

The states also claim that California’s regulations have cost U.S. consumers approximately $351 million per year, and that welfare recipients have had to pay $96.5 million more for eggs as a result of the California regulations.

California imposed these regulations on other states’ egg farmers to ensure a level playing field for California’s egg producers. Without these requirements, of course, out-of-state egg producers would have lower costs and the California egg producers would go out of business or be forced to move to another state.

It appears the sole purpose of California’s regulations was to discriminate against other egg producing states and to increase the burden of regulations on other states and their farmers without their consent. Protect the Harvest, a non-profit organization that attempts to defend farmers’ and ranchers’ agricultural practices, has been a leader in suggesting states such as Missouri, Indiana and others sue California to stop this burdensome and inequitable action against agricultural practices. Missouri and 11 other states have now stepped up to the plate to defend agriculture.      

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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