Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced that he filed a lawsuit late Monday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California arguing that a California farming law violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution and encroaches on Missouri sovereignty.
In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that prohibits California farmers from employing a number of agricultural production methods currently in widespread use throughout the country. Beginning in 2015, for example, California egg producers are required to comply with new regulations concerning the size of the enclosures housing egg-laying hens.
Even before the initiative passed, California farmers, economists, and legislators expressed concern that Proposition 2 would put their state’s egg producers at a competitive disadvantage by increasing the cost of egg production within California. To protect that state’s farmers from out-of-state competition, in 2010 the California State Assembly passed new legislation (AB1437) requiring egg producers in other states—including Missouri—to comply with Proposition 2 themselves in order to continue selling their eggs in California.
Koster is asking the federal court to rule that California’s legislation violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. 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 has placed restrictions on the sale or transfer of a commodity based on production methods that have nothing to do with the health or safety of California consumers,” said Koster. “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.”
Missouri’s seven million egg-laying hens produce about 1.7 billion eggs per year. Approximately 540 million of those eggs are sold to consumers in California. According to Koster, California’s law puts Missouri egg producers in a bind. If they comply with the law, Missouri’s egg producers face an estimated $120 million in capital improvements costs, plus a 20% increase in ongoing production costs. If instead they choose to stop selling eggs in California, Missouri’s egg producers will face a surplus of a half billion eggs, which could depress prices here at home and force some Missouri farmers out of business.
“This case is not merely about farming practices,” said Koster. “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. When California passes legislation that imposes new requirements or limits on Missouri businesses, it is my job to fight against it.”