Missouri Not Eggstatic About California's Egg Law

By William Peacock, Esq. on February 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Useless piece of trivia: one-third of all eggs produced in Missouri are sold in California.

Why are we tossing such eggstremely useless statistics at you? Well, that little nugget of trivia is at the heart of a lawsuit filed by the "Show Me State" against the "Golden State." The lawsuit also pits two stereotypes against each other: Missouri farmers fighting California regulators.

And as an added bonus, the central issue is a somewhat rare interstate commerce clause argument.

California Regulates

In 2008, our fine voters passed Proposition 2, a feel-good law that became Health and Safety Code § 25990, and which takes effect in 2015:

Prohibitions. In addition to other applicable provisions of law, a person shall not tether or confine any covered animal, on a farm, for all or the majority of any day, in a manner that prevents such animal from:

(a) Lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs; and

(b) Turning around freely.

It sounds nice, and the chickens were probably overjoyed, but as you might guess, Old McDonald and friends weren't happy. According to The Wall Street Journal, one study estimated the cost to farmers for switching from industry-standard cages to bigger cages with room to move would be $385 million, which, of course, gets passed on to retailers.

This is where Missouri comes in. If California eggs become more expensive, those farmers are going to have trouble moving bulk yolk. The state legislature, therefore, passed a law in 2010 that extended the feel-good law to anyone who sells eggs in California.

Missouri Farms (and Sues)

Missouri is raging for a few reasons. First, they note that their famers have two choices here: upgrade their cages, making their eggs too expensive to sell anywhere but California, or stop shipping one-third of its eggs to the Golden state.

Their other point is that Californian farmers got a head start. They've known about Prop. 2 since it was passed in 2008, and got a two-year head start on out-of-state farmer.

Interstate Commerce Clause Argument

The complaint [PDF] argues that "[b]y conditioning the flow of goods across its state lines on the method of their production, California is attempting to regulate agricultural practices beyond its own borders," and that the extraterritorial reach, undue burden on interstate commerce, and the purpose of protecting California farmers from out-of-state competition all point to a Commerce Clause violation.

The complaint also points out that California's alleged interest in passing the law, food safety, is preempted by the Federal Egg Products Inspection Act (EPIA), 21 U.S.C. § 1031.

Or, if you prefer plain English, in a press release, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster argues, "If California legislators are permitted to mandate the size of chicken coops on Missouri farms, they may just as easily demand that Missouri soybeans be harvested by hand or that Missouri corn be transported by solar-powered trucks."

Not California's First Food Fight

If you've been following the news out here in the Golden State, two other food bans probably come to mind: the foie gras ban and the shark fin ban. Both were upheld over interstate commerce arguments by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, there is one significant difference: those were outright bans, whereas this law regulates the manner of production. But will that be enough to sway the Ninth Circuit?

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