WASHINGTON -- California’s egg law has survived an effort in Congress to scramble it. This means that beginning next year, all eggs sold in California will have been laid by hens that had plenty of room to flap their wings.
Although it seems like a big win for hens, the debate in Congress really focused on states' rights.
Congressional negotiators rejected an effort, led by an Iowa representative, to prevent California from requiring that eggs sold in the Golden State be produced under standards that give hens enough room to spread their wings.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who represents the top egg-producing state, had persuaded the Republican-controlled House to include in its farm bill a measure to prohibit a state from interfering with another state’s production of agricultural products. He contended the California law was infringing on Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce by imposing conditions on farmers who want to sell eggs in the nation’s most populous state.
King could not immediately be reached for comment.
But the measure did not make it into the proposed House-Senate farm bill agreement, according to three sources. Details of the bill are expected to be made available later today. The eagerly awaited bill could come before Congress this week.
King’s efforts also drew opposition from state lawmakers from both parties throughout the country, California Gov. Jerry Brown, and groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, which warned it could nullify scores of laws across the country dealing with food safety, animal welfare and other matters.
"This is a victory for states' rights," said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), contending that King’s language would have "led to a race to the bottom for agriculture production laws nationwide, trampled on the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution and imperiled the fate of California egg producers."
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, called the King measure "a radical overreaching amendment."
"Over time, an enormous coalition was built against it," Pacelle said.
California voters in 2008 approved Proposition 2, requiring state chicken farmers to give egg-laying birds enough room to stand and spread their wings.
State legislation passed two years later added a requirement that, when the initiative takes effect in 2015, eggs sold in the state come from farms that meet the California standards.