The hens just can’t get a break.
In 2008, California voters said "yes" to a ballot initiative requiring simple, common decency for farm animals: egg-laying hens, pigs, and calves should be afforded enough space to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs. Farmers were given until 2015 to comply.
In 2010 the law was expanded to ban the sale of eggs from any hens that were not kept according to the guidelines, regardless of which state they were raised in. The extra measure was added after complaints that California egg farmers might be put at a competitive disadvantage with producers in other states.
But now Missouri is raising a stink. Farmers from the Show Me State produce about 1.7 billion eggs a year; some 540 million of those eggs are sent to California.
And many of those nearly 2 billion eggs come from hens raised in very tight cages.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says that egg farmers would have to spend $120 million to revamp their coops, or skip egg sales to California altogether. With that in mind, Koster filed a suit in US District Court in Fresno, Calif., asking the federal court to strike the law.
Koster says that the California law infringes on the interstate commerce protections of the United States Constitution by effectively imposing new requirements on out-of-state farmers, reports The Christian Science Monitor.
"If California legislators are permitted to mandate the size of chicken coops on Missouri farms, they may just as easily demand that Missouri soybeans be harvested by hand or that Missouri corn be transported by solar-powered trucks," Koster said.
Eggs produced from hens in cramped conditions have a higher risk of salmonella contamination; the California law cites this and other human health issues that come courtesy of “battery cages.” But the Missouri bigwigs claim that the true intention was to protect California egg producers from being “put at a disadvantage with their counterparts in other states.”
Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said that if the California law is upheld, it could pave the way for bigger states to indirectly set agricultural policies for all the states.
The Humane Society of the United States, which helped campaign for the law, released a statement saying that states have the right to pass laws that protect the health and safety of their residents.
"Attorney General Koster's lawsuit targeting California's laws, filed just to curry favor with big agribusiness, threatens state laws across the country dealing with agriculture and food safety," said Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society's’s senior state director for California
Farm Sanctuary, a New-York based animal rescue groups that helped fund the campaign for the ballot initiative, shared the sentiment. Bruce Friedrich, a senior policy director with the group, noted, "It's a real embarrassment for the state of Missouri that Mr. Koster would defend a practice that is horribly abusive of animals with a legal theory that is tilting at windmills."
California Attorney General Kamala Harris has yet to comment on the suit.
KCRA reports on the food fight in the video below:
Related stories on MNN:
- Experts say big egg farms can mean big problems
- Finally answered! Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
- 'Give a Cluck about Hens' champions cage-free eggs