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Court Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging California Egg-Producing Standards

Will Curran/Flickr

A federal district court upheld a California law that requires all eggs sold in the state to come from hens housed in more spacious cages.

Attorneys general of six states – Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Alabama – sued to challenge the constitutionality of a California law requiring that all eggs sold in California be raised under standards laid out for California egg producers in a 2008 state ballot measure.

California is a huge market and the rule, set to take effect Jan. 1, will block exports from other egg-producing states, notably big producers Missouri and Iowa, if farmers in those states didn’t comply with the California cage requirements. California maintains that happier chickens produce healthier eggs, so it had a right to make the restrictions.

The federal court dismissed the suit, saying that the state attorneys general had no grounds to sue.

“States have a right to protect the health and welfare of their citizens,” said Joe Maxwell, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, which opposed the suit. “That’s a U.S. constitutional right.”

The Missouri Farm Bureau called the California law a “lose-lose proposition” for California egg producers who must comply with the new standards as well as egg producers in other states who will be blocked from supplying eggs to the California market.

“We look forward to further action on this matter,” Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said in a statement.

The next farm animal welfare battle could come over tight cages for sows, called gestation crates. Maxwell says the New Jersey legislature is close to passing a law banning pork produced using that type of cage.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.