California egg farmers laying the groundwork for roomier hen roosts

SACRAMENTO — California’s egg-laying hens soon will come home to more comfy roosts.

Voters in 2008 approved a statewide initiative requiring that cages have plenty of room for the birds to lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their wings, starting Jan. 1, 2015.

Supported by 63% of voters, the measure applies to all chickens in California in commercial egg production. And in 2010, a state law expanded the mandate to cover any chickens laying eggs sold in California.

After losing several legal attempts to overturn the upcoming henhouse rules, farmers in the Golden State are busy remodeling coops and building so-called cage-free systems, said Debra J. Murdock, executive director of the Assn. of California Egg Farmers. “They are making the changes in anticipation of what it means to be an egg farmer on Jan. 1, 2015.”


Meanwhile, out-of-state farmers aren’t keen on the law. Their backers tried last year unsuccessfully to get Congress to block the statute, and now the Missouri attorney general is challenging its constitutionality in federal court. He contends that California’s law violates interstate commerce protections. Jennifer Fearing, California director for the Humane Society of the United States, said she expects the lawsuit to fail.

Cigarette tax-stamp sniping

The company that makes bestselling Marlboro cigarettes is trashing the high-tech tax stamps that California distributors place on every pack of smokes.

Altria, based in Richmond, Va., is fighting a citizen petition before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that would create a national “track and trace” system that would use such stamps to combat contraband tobacco products. Only California and Massachusetts currently rely on the stamps with serial numbers, encrypted data and holographic images. In 2005, California introduced the stamps, which are harder to counterfeit than traditional wax and paper seals, and an improved version came out in 2010.


“In our viewpoint, the technology is not very effective at all,” and they are expensive, said spokesman David Sutton at Altria, which owns cigarette maker Philip Morris USA. “We’ve seen counterfeited versions.”

State tax officials say the stamps are effective and they dismiss Altria’s allegations as self-serving. Before the upgrade, the state Board of Equalization found counterfeit stamps at 27% of 1,200 inspected mom-and-pop stores statewide, said Chief of Investigations Randy Silva. Last year, it inspected 10,600 retailers and found that fewer than 1% of stamps were bogus.

Manufacturing malaise

The state economy may be better, but the manufacturing sector still lags the rest of the country, the California Manufacturing & Technology Assn. warns.

California ranks last among the 50 states in the number of manufacturing investments per 1 million people, the association notes, using 2013 data from Site Selection Magazine and the U.S. Census Bureau. The association blames high taxes, over-regulation, expensive electricity and a poorly trained workforce, among other factors.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher