CA regulations hatch legal food fights

CA regulations hatch legal food fights

chickenhawkHave you noticed egg prices going up as much as 40 cents a dozen? Look to California voters.

In 2008, they passed Proposition 2, which mandated more comfortable hatching quarters for chickens. Because of the cost to farmers of expanding chicken coops, a grace period was allowed of six years, to Jan. 1, 2015.

As NBC reported, the extra time allowed farmers time to “invest in operations to make sure that every hen would have at least 116 square inches of space, or about a square foot. One thousand laying hens, for example, now require a facility measuring more than 800 square feet.” That’s about double the space egg-layers enjoyed previously.

Now that the clock has run out on preparation time, egg prices are poised to rise even higher. According to the Associated Press, the cost of breakfast will rise for consumers across the country, not just California:

“The new standard, backed by animal rights advocates, has been criticized by chicken farmers in Iowa, Ohio and other states who sell eggs in California and will have to abide by the same requirements. California is the nation’s largest consumer of eggs and imports about one-third of its supply.”

Nationwide, the market could eventually adjust. UC Davis economist Daniel Sumner told the AP “prices initially could rise sharply this year but he expected them to eventually settle 10 to 40 percent higher in California and return to their normal prices elsewhere in the country.”

That would leave Golden Staters paying a premium that other Americans, with less comfortable chickens, would avoid.

Foie gras

The egg price jump also ties into the ongoing foie gras controversy. As previously reported, for now, foie gras is back on Californian menus.

In a brief ruling that skirted deep questions of constitutional law, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson held this week that federal poultry regulations “preempt” what was a statewide ban on the delicacy, a rich dish made from the liver of force-fed geese or ducks.

But as Daniel Fisher noted at Forbes, supporters of the ban swung quickly into action. “The Humane Society immediately urged California to appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which has been friendly toward the state’s extraterritorial regulatory efforts in the past.”

Notably, the activist organization referenced another hot area concerning chickens: eggs.

According to Fisher, the “foie gras ban ran afoul of federal law controlling the ingredients in poultry products, the Humane Society said, while the egg ban involves the process of raising chickens.”

There, the important distinction concerns out-of-state production and in-state consumption. The Ninth Circuit’s ostensible treatment of the foie gras case will turn on its interpretation of the Interstate Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Faced with a previous challenge to the ban, the Ninth Circuit did not object to the way that Sacramento’s ban on foie gras made it impossible under state law for out-of-state producers to import the food into California. Nevertheless, Wilson held that federal poultry law prevailed over California’s policy.

belushi food fightDifferent argument

So the Humane Society and other ban defenders want the Ninth Circuit to consider a different argument: California should be able to ban food production that requires what they consider cruelty to animals — even for out-of-state production.

In a case last fall, Judge Kimberly Mueller, of the Sacramento Division of U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, held that out-of-state producers of eggs running afoul of California’s new rules lacked “standing” to sue — meaning  the capacity of a party to bring suit in court.

Now the Humane Society and its allies expect to show in-state standing before the Ninth Circuit.

All told, California’s food fight isn’t just set to expand. It’s set to escalate, perhaps even to the national level.

Tags assigned to this article:
ethanolfoie grasNinth CircuiteggsJames Poulos

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