Earlier this year, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Alabama filed on behalf of each states’ citizens a lawsuit in California challenging the constitutionality of California legislation governing the sale of shell eggs. The law, which takes effect on January 1, 2015, bans the sale of shell eggs in California by producers or handlers if the eggs came from a hen confined in an animal enclosure that fails to comply with certain animal care standards. The states challenged the new California law as unconstitutional, claiming it violates the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
The plaintiff states argued that egg producers in their states will either incur major capital improvement costs to build the required larger habitats for their egg-laying hens or walk away from the largest egg market in the country. The California egg law requires that for any enclosure with 9 or more hens, there be at least 116 square inches of space per chicken, which is slightly smaller than a piece of legal paper (8.5” x 14”). The current industry standard is 67 square inches, or a little smaller than a 10” x 7” rectangle. According to one source, in 2008, about half of the eggs consumed in California came from outside the state.
The plaintiff states claimed they could properly bring the action because of the interests in protecting the economic health and constitutional rights of their citizens. The defendants moved to dismiss the case, arguing, among other things, that the states lacked standing to file the lawsuit. The judge agreed with the defendants, finding that the California law only applies to egg producers, and not to plaintiffs’ residents in general, so the plaintiffs could not meet their burden of proof. The case was dismissed without leave to amend the Complaint. In other words, but for an appeal, this case is over.
Some predict the California egg law will result in other states implementing other retaliatory restrictions designed to benefit their farmers. For example a spokesman for Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said he plans to continue “fighting for the state’s agriculture industry” and that the “governor believes that this case demonstrates the very reason the commerce clause was adopted — to prevent states like California from passing burdensome regulations that are a detriment to other states.” [See here] Only time will tell whether a new civil ag war may erupt, dragging in other producers such as those who raise pigs and cattle.