Eggs

The question of California egg requirements was part of a farm bill passed by the House on Thursday. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON — The cluck may be running out on California’s egg law.

The House on Thursday approved a bill that would prevent California from requiring that eggs imported into the state be produced under standards ensuring that hens can spread their wings. 

The measure is included in a Repulican-drafted farm bill that passed on a largely party-line vote of 216-208 after heated debate.

It now goes to House-Senate negotiators who will work to reconcile differences between their bills.

The "prohibition against interference by state and local governments with production or manufacture of items in other states’’ was sought by Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, the No. 1 egg-producing state.

King contends that California exceeded its authority and interfered with Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce in imposing conditions on farmers who want to sell eggs in the nation’s most populous state.

"This bill threatens the ability of every state to protect consumers and animals and would put California egg farmers out of business," said freshman Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), who as an assemblyman wrote the 2010 legislation requiring out-of-state farms to comply with Proposition 2 in order to sell eggs in California.

The 2008 voter-approved initiative requires California chicken farmers to give egg-laying birds enough room to stand and spread their wings. The 2010 state legislation requires that, when the initiative takes effect in 2015, eggs sold in the state must come from farms that meet the California standards. 

Critics of King’s measure have warned that it could nullify more than 150 state laws around the country, many of them dealing with animal welfare. They also contend that it would harm  California by forcing its egg farmers, but not their out-of-state competitors, to comply with voter-approved rules.

The House bill drew a White House veto threat and strong oppositon from Democratic lawmakers, in large part because it left out food assistance programs, such as food stamps. House Republican leaders pulled out the nutrition programs after a revolt by its conservative rank-and-file helped sink an earlier version of the farm bill last month because of its cost.

The American Farm Bureau Federation also complained about the slimmed-down bill.

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richard.simon@latimes.com