Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on March 6 joined a lawsuit opposing a California egg-production law that opponents of the law say is unconstitutional and discriminates against Iowa's egg producers and egg producers from other states. Branstad, along with the top officials of five other states, says California's egg-production law violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit against the state of California was filed in the Eastern District of California by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. The state of Missouri initially announced the lawsuit in January 2014. The lawsuit contends the commerce clause prohibits any state from enacting legislation that regulates conduct outside its borders, protects its own citizens from out-of-state competition, or places undue burdens on interstate commerce.
"The burdensome law from the State of California effectively regulates the industry across state lines, hurts Iowa agriculture and is detrimental to Iowa egg producers," says Branstad. "Iowa is by far the leading egg producing state in the nation. This law is an unwarranted burden being imposed on Iowa's producers by another state and violates the interstate commerce clause of the United States Constitution."
California law unfairly burdens egg farmers from other states
The California State Legislature passed the law after California voters approved Proposition 2 in 2008. Farmers were given until 2015 to comply with the measure. The law bans "extreme confinement" cages for egg-laying hens, and crates pigs and calves bred for veal. The law requires eggs sold in the state of California to come from chickens raised in cages where the birds have enough room to spread their wings. To avoid any potential competitive disadvantage to California's egg producers, the California State Legislature in 2010 passed legislation requiring egg producers in other states to comply with Proposition 2 in order to sell eggs in California.
The six states that have joined together in the lawsuit are asking the federal court to rule that California's legislation violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Iowa is top egg producing state, needs to protect producers
Iowa's egg farmers lead the nation in egg production by producing nearly 15 billion eggs per year. Almost one out of every five eggs produced in the U.S. are produced in Iowa. The Iowa egg industry contributes about $2 billion in total sales and impacts about 8,000 jobs.
"Governor Branstad and I know a strong agricultural economy is critical to our continued economic growth," says Iowa Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. "California's law adversely affects Iowa agricultural jobs and we believe its negative effects and regulations felt by egg producers across the country is a violation of the commerce clause. We're pleased that Democrats and Republicans are coming together in support of agriculture and against onerous regulations."
The lawsuit, which was filed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and co-signed by the attorney generals of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky and Iowa's Gov. Branstad, argues that the court should rule that California's law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He says the commerce clause prohibits any state from enacting legislation that regulates conduct wholly outside its borders, protects its own citizens from out-of-state competition, or places undue burdens on interstate commerce.
California law could eventually put egg farmers out of business
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey agrees, adding, "California's effort to unconstitutionally limit the ability of Iowa farmers to access California's consumers must be stopped. I support all efforts to uphold the right of Iowa farmers to sell their products, including eggs, in every state free from unconstitutional restraints imposed by any state."
California's law puts unnecessary burdens on Iowa farms which could force some Iowa farmers out of business, says Northey.
The Humane Society of the United States takes the opposite view on this issue. HSUS issued a press release March 6 saying the legal challenge in California could have sweeping implications for other state laws throughout the U.S. that protect agriculture and food safety, specifically those dealing with agricultural imports. HSUS president Wayne Pacelle says state officials who've joined this egg lawsuit are trying to curry favor with agribusiness interests and that individual states have rights to make their own laws that set standards for the care of animals.
Facts about Iowa egg production
•Iowa is the number on state in egg production. Iowa farmers produce over 14.4 billion eggs per year.
•Approximately 9.1% of those eggs—1.07 billion eggs per year—are sold in California.
•Iowa farmers export more eggs to California than any other state.
•30% of the eggs imported by California are produced in Iowa.