A STATE attorney general has decided to defend interstate commerce laws.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said he plans to formally sue California in mid-January regarding its law stipulating that eggs raised in production systems that are not in compliance with California regulations on hen welfare cannot be sold in California.
California voters passed Proposition 2 in 2010 and subsequent legislation to implement production standards for imported eggs requiring out-of-state egg producers to live up to the same standards set by California.
During a speech to the annual meeting of the Missouri Farm Bureau, Koster announced the intended action and said, in essence, California is attempting to nationalize its animal protection standards.
Koster said the law goes beyond hen welfare and is designed to give California egg producers an "advantage" rather than allowing Missouri-produced eggs to be sold in California at a much lower price than California-produced eggs.
"I don't believe voters in California should be able to set agricultural policy in Missouri," Koster said. As a result, his office is preparing to sue California in federal court for violating the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which regulates trade between states.
"No one has attempted a case quite like this before, but the California legislature has left us with no choice," Koster added.
Interstate commerce laws allow states to put measures in place due to safety reasons. In the preamble of the law, California tried to outline scientific literature that chickens in tighter cages have an increased incidence of salmonella and that larger cage sizes would, therefore, protect against salmonella.
However, the egg industry said there are no studies in the U.S. that support such a claim, and that will be one of the major topics under scrutiny within the case.
Opponents of the law explained that it is one thing for California to choose how its own producers should raise their animals. However, since 50% of eggs are imported into the state, many other states are affected by California's decision.
The egg industry argued that meeting the standards would collapse the Midwest's egg market. From an economic standpoint, companies can't just designate certain facilities and warehouses to ship only to California because the amount of eggs produced varies each month.
In addition, making those changes would raise the cost of production substantially. For the months companies can't ship into California, those producers would have excess eggs that cost them more to produce.
After a couple of rough years, having a state attorney general's office take on a case saves the egg industry from having to pony up the roughly $20 million in costs that could result from a multiyear court case that lasts five to eight years.
There is some indication that if a state sues a state, it could go straight to the Supreme Court and shorten that timeline. If so, this provides one final answer without challenge, should the court decide to hear the case.
An advantage to going to the Supreme Court is that it could also include all 50 states, which would roll in states like Michigan and Ohio that also have passed measures on production standards.
The attorney general could also move it through the district court in California, where other states in the district such as Oregon and Washington could be affected.
Mary Kay Thatcher, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), said AFBF remains very supportive of Koster's actions. There is some indication of engaging other attorneys general in the fight, and she said AFBF would be "very supportive" of that.
The egg industry hopes that other state attorneys general file their own suits or file amicus briefs.
Leslie Holloway, director of state and local governmental affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said its members had a very positive reaction to Koster's comments. At a business meeting, one member even proposed a policy resolution to support the attorney general's action challenging the California law, which saw widespread support and was adopted.
Holloway noted that the Missouri Farm Bureau has a good working relationship with the attorney general's office and has worked with it on a number of issues, including successfully challenging unlawful regulations against the siting of livestock confinement operations.