Missouri sues California over chicken coop law

February 4, 2014

chickenHSUS-350Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a federal lawsuit against the state of California over a law mandating that farmers increase the size of chicken enclosures. [Washington Post]

In 2008, California voters passed Proposition 2, which requires larger enclosures fore egg-laying hens. The law worried California farmers that they would suffer a competitive disadvantage. So in 2012, the California Legislature passed a bill applying the regulation to out-of-state farmers who sell eggs in California.

Koster, a Democrat, says the California law is unfair to egg producers in his state.

“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 in a statement.

California farmers must begin complying with the chicken coop law in 2015, and out-of-state farmers must do so later that year.


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Ah, Missurah, home of high-powered intellects. Makes me homesick.

A few facts on the situation. California has approximately 20 million laying hens in the state. While this sound like a lot, it is only enough to supply 60% of the demand. The remaining 40% is supplied by out of state producers in the Midwest. Yes, it is economical to ship eggs to California. Wholesale prices are usually $.15/doz higher than the rest of the nation. Also, Prop 2 will put California producers at an economic disadvantage. The typical stocking density of laying hens is 69 square inches per bird. Under the new regulation, that density will change to 116 square inches per bird. Roughly twice as much room. That mean, come January 2015, California producers that have caged birds, will have to cull 1/2 of their birds. That is assuming they plan on staying in business. Many producers will simply shut their doors and go out of business.For those remaining, their overhead costs will remain the same, making it more expensive to produce eggs in state. Without the current regulation, out of state producers could then flood the California market with cheap Midwest eggs and force our producers out of business. The only way to level the playing field is to require out of state producers to meet California standards.

Even with this regulation, Californians are in for a big shock come Jan 2015. Industry analysis has shown if you add up all producers, both in state and out of state, that can meet this requirement, there will be a shortfall of 14.3 million birds just to supply California. If you want to buy eggs in California, get out your wallet. Best of all is, we have no one to blame but ourselves!

I agree that the original law/proposition was an over-reaction which passed due to a campaign of exaggerations and emotional appeals. However, producers do have another option to culling their flocks — doubling the room for them. Yes, it would be very expensive and would raise the cost of eggs further but, for those who are running a profitable business to start, it could be done. Competing with out-of-state producers who don’t face those costs would drive most out of business though.

Another stupid law by California legislators. It should be the consumer who decides to buy or not buy eggs from chickens in small cages. It doesn’t matter much to me as I eat only organic eggs, but many people cannot afford the more expensive eggs. This will be a burden to those of lower income.

Pay attention, isoslo: It wasn’t “California legislators” who enacted this law. It was the people of the Great State of California, expressing their will in Proposition 2. So, I guess all of us are stupid–even though we are the “consumers” in whom you suggest we place our trust.

Wrong it was the legislature who passed the law requiring the out of state producers to meet the ca standards. And yes the people of ca are stupid to have passesd prop 2 which forced ca producers to increase the size of the bird cages

With added transportation costs, and surely, breakage happening during a 2,000 mile trip; why would Missouri eggs be competitive anyway ?

Would it be because the methods used in Missouri or elsewhere constitute some kind of unfair economic advantage ?

” …it has been the genius of the American system that we have free trade between states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing in the Lopez decision, added that regulations that treat in-state and out-of-state businesses the same are still unconstitutional if they overly burden interstate commerce.”

According to Missouri’s attorney general, the law passed in California outlawing the eggs produced under the practices generally used in the rest of the United States clearly offends the Interstate Commerce law and the Constitution.

California’s egg bill will add 20% for production costs which will be passed along to consumers, so Californians will pay more for California eggs regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit.

I think that you are correct on the legal analysis of this situation. From a moral point of view, I am less sure since I think that the US should be taking the same attitude towards imports from other countries. I would hate to see that precedent come from this particular law though since I think it was passed as an over-reaction to a small problem.

The Missouri AG sounds like an idiot. California legislators aren’t mandating that Missouri farmers use bigger cages. They are saying that in order to do business in California they must use bigger cages. Big difference. Feel free to use smaller cages… there are 49 other states you can do business with.

California legislators mandating a production practice for eggs to be sold in California that has nothing to do with the health or safety of Californians violates the Commerce Clause. Substitute “must sell only organic food in order do business in California” for “must use bigger cages in order to do business” and you’ll get the idea.

Funny how quickly “the will of the people” isn’t so important when it’s your interests against which the people have expressed their will…. Now we know that GMO crops are killing off the Monarch butterflies, so if we vote “no more GMO” food to be sold in California–irrespective of any health risk to humans–you wouldn’t like that either, I’m sure. Corporate uber alles.

There is another name for “GMO food”… and that is “food”

Maybe if you repeat this enough times that will make it true? I guess you can always hope, RoY.

If there is a real and scientifically defensible health or safety risk to California citizens, that would be different. Though the California legislature tried to gin one up on the number of square inches a laying hen should have – that is – there is a greater risk of salmonella if hens have less room, there is ZERO science to back that claim up, but the backers of bill passed by the legislature (which is what is at issue here, not Prop 2) knew if they couldn’t at least make the claim, they would be dead in the water on the Commerce Clause issue – which is why you’ll see “health and safety of Californians” in the talking point statements that all of the supporters of the law have been issuing. As the backers publicly stated at the time, the law was all about protecting (“leveling the playing field”) so California egg producers who are stuck with Prop 2 can try to survive. One state passing a law to protect its own producers for economic reasons against out-of-state producers is the textbook definition of a violation of the Commerce Clause between the various states.