Calif. Egg Law Challenged in Federal Lawsuit

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 05, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California's egg-production law is being challenged by Missouri's attorney general, who claims in a lawsuit that it may raise costs for Missouri poultry farmers.

Golden State voters passed Proposition 2 in 2008, prohibiting California farmers from confining chickens in a way that prevents the full extension of their limbs or prevents chickens from "turning around freely," beginning in 2015, The Wall Street Journal reports. The law was extended in 2010 to cover all out-of-state egg producers who want to sell their yolky products in California.

Can California legally enforce its laws against out-of-state farmers in Missouri?

Eggs and Interstate Commerce

In his suit, Missouri's attorney general claims that California's Proposition 2 violates the Supremacy Clause and the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Supremacy Clause simply states that Congress' laws are the highest law of the land in the areas which those laws apply. The Commerce Clause states that Congress is empowered to regulate interstate commerce and international commerce.

Missouri argues that since the California law burdens Missouri farmers -- who allegedly sold "one-third" of their eggs to California consumers in 2013 -- it is a substantial burden on interstate commerce. When a state's law substantially burdens interstate commerce -- which only the federal government can regulate -- the offending state law may be found unconstitutional.

California's Proposition 2 would require chickens to be held in slightly larger cages than Missouri farmers currently use, which Missouri's attorney general argues is essentially taxing out-of-state farmers without representation.

Not All State Bans Are Unconstitutional

But before you start dumping tea in Lake Tahoe, consider other California food bans which have been upheld.

After California effectively outlawed foie gras in the state in 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that its blanket ban applied to all companies (in all states) and disadvantaged foie gras producers equally. Because no one state had a leg up in the foie gras business because of the ban, the 9th Circuit found that the law didn't violate the Commerce Clause.

The Golden State also successfully defended its shark fin ban against a federal challenge in 2013, despite the fact that "finning" sharks was already against federal law.

Based on these decisions, Missouri's attorney general may face a tough road ahead in proving that California's egg law is unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Fresno, California.

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