States sue over California's egg laws

Five states are filing lawsuits because they claim California's egg laws violate federal interstate commerce laws.
March 14, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 back in 2008. It requires that hens, calves and sows be kept in cages at least large enough for the animals to turn around in. The California legislature followed that with another law requiring eggs brought in from out of state must have come from chickens that have the California-sized cages.

Chickens at the J.S. West egg facility in Livingston are living in relative comfort. Their cages allow them enough room to move around a bit. The extra space is considered more humane and more sanitary.

Come Jan. 1, all eggs sold in California have to come from chickens that have it at least this good, and out-of-state egg producers don't like it. Five of their states are suing, claiming California's rules violate federal interstate commerce laws.

California egg producers didn't like the laws either, at first, but now they embrace them. Jill Benson, whose family owns J.S. West, wants other states to comply.

"We'd like to continue to receive those high-quality eggs from out-of-state producers and just follow the same standards our California egg farmers follow," said Benson.

Back in 2008, Benson told Action News California's new laws would drive egg producers out of business, but today she says the changes only add about 1 cent to the cost of each egg. The average cost of a dozen eggs in California is between $2 and $3.

But many consumers are willing to pay a lot more for free-range eggs. Jim Belcher owns Kristina's Ranch Market where eggs from uncaged chickens bring premium prices.

"They want the cage-free pastured eggs, we have the cage free for $6.50 a dozen, we have the cage free pastured organic, certified organic eggs for all the way up to $8.50 a dozen," said Belcher.

Belcher says despite the price, he can sell all these eggs he can get.

"The taste, everything looks good. Dr. Oz has had a big influence on people everywhere. Once you taste them, you won't go back," said Belcher.

California's laws do not go as far as the eggs sold at Kristina's. The laws just require some additional health checks on chickens, and larger cages.

Most of J.S. West eggs already meet the coming California standards and are sold by big retailers. The company has embraced the change, and you can even go to their website and see live video feeds of their chickens in their cages.

Bensen told Action News: "We discovered that consumers really want to know where their food comes from, and they want to feel good about how food is being raised and how specifically we care for our hens. People can watch anytime they want what our egg-laying hens are doing, anytime of the day or night."

California legislators are confident the federal court will uphold the state's regulations. The primary argument for the improved conditions for hens is disease control, something they say a state has a right to regulate.


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