Chickens

Hens in cages at JS West Farms in Atwater, Calif. (Tomas Ovalle / April 30, 2012)

Missouri Atty. Gen. Chris Koster filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Monday, challenging a California law that requires the living conditions of egg-laying hens to include enough room for the animals to spread their wings. 

The law affects the 540 million eggs Missouri sells in the Golden State each year. Missouri must abide by the agricultural production restrictions outlined in the law, which Koster argues violates the interstate-commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. 

"At stake is whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state's citizens who cannot vote them out of office," Koster said in a release. "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."

California voters passed the law in 2008 when it showed up as Proposition 2, a ballot initiative to protect people from illnesses such as salmonella. The law, which goes into full effect next year, restricts certain agricultural production methods and sets out new regulations for the size of enclosures for egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal. Under the measure, the animals need to be given enough space to lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. 

The Assembly passed legislation in 2010 that requires egg producers based in other states but selling their product in California to comply with the same regulations, in order to ensure that California producers were not at an unfair disadvantage in terms of production costs. 

According to Koster's filing, Missouri egg operations would have to spend about $120 million, with an additional 20% in production costs, to comply with the law.

Koster's statement indicated that choosing not to sell eggs in California isn't an option. The surplus in eggs, about one-third of the total produced in the state, could put Missouri farmers out of business, he said.   

Missouri isn't the first to take issue with the California law. Congressional negotiators recently rejected a proposed amendment to the farm bill, spearheaded by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), that would have forbidden states from interfering with another state's production of agricultural products.

What do you think of Missouri's challenge to the law? Let us know in the comments below. 

Want more food news? Follow me on Twitter: @Jenn_Harris_

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