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National and State Standards for Egg Production

March 8, 2014

batthens09_300_1You may remember that voters in the State of California in 2008 approved a referendum requiring egg producers in the state to engage in more humane production practices. The measure, known as Proposition 2, prohibited egg producers in California from using small cages in which hens were unable to stand or extend their wings. California egg producers then spent millions of dollars to comply with the new requirements, either by increasing the size of cages, transitioning to cage free production, or by relocating operations to other states with laxer regulations. To ensure that California egg producers did not face price competition from states without such requirements, the state legislature passed a law requiring that all eggs sold in the state be produced under conditions that met the same standards even when imported.

Now six other states are suing California, alleging that the requirements violate the US Commerce Clause. They are also worried that similar requirements might be extended to other animal production, including pork or beef.

California has long used its market size to dictate national standards. California’s imposition of stricter emissions and fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, for example, has long driven the adoption of stricter national standards. Because the California economy is so large, producers find it more efficient to meet California’s standards for all cars produced in the nation than to produce cars to one standard for California and another for the rest of the United States. Auto producers have unsuccessfully attempted to sue to block California’s auto standards in the past. But a more conservative Supreme Court might indeed find California’s stricter standards for food production to violate the Commerce Clause, turning back the clock on establishing a more sustainable (and humane) food system. It will be an interesting case to watch.

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