WASHINGTON, March 6, 2014— Five states joined Missouri in a lawsuit against California over its law requiring more space for all egg-laying hens. The standards apply to all eggs produced within the state as well as eggs produced in any other states but sold in California.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced in December last year that his office would prepare to sue the state of California. He said that, in essence, “California is attempting to nationalize its animal protection standards.”

Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Iowa joined Missouri in its challenge, alleging that the state of California is unconstitutionally attempting to regulate farming practices beyond its borders. Together, the six states produce more than 20 billion eggs per year, 10 percent of which are sold to California consumers, according to the announcement from Koster.

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that, beginning in 2015, regulates the size of the enclosures housing egg-laying hens.  The California State Assembly passed legislation in 2010 requiring egg producers in other states to comply with Proposition 2 in order to sell eggs in California.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) criticized the lawsuit today, claiming the legal challenge could have implications for other state laws regarding agriculture and food safety. 

“State lawmakers and agriculture departments have real work to do, and the underlying basis of this lawsuit is to allow the federal government to trump state law as it wishes on agriculture policy,” said Kevin Fulton, head of the HSUS Nebraska Agriculture Council, in a press release.

The six states are asking the federal court to rule that California’s legislation violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.  The Commerce Clause prohibits any state from enacting legislation that regulates conduct wholly outside its borders, protects its own citizens from out-of-state competition, or places undue burdens on interstate commerce. 

“We welcome the five states joining our effort,” Koster said, “This case is not just about farming practices. At stake is whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state’s citizens, who cannot vote them out of office.

Rep. Steve King, R.-Iowa, who had failed in his attempt to include a provision in the new Farm Bill prohibiting laws such as the one passed in California, said he was pleased that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad was joining with Missouri in the legal challenge.

"This lawsuit can only be resolved in favor of Iowa and the states because California's law is clearly unconstitutional," said King, who vowed to continue his pursuit of a legislative remedy to what he called California's "overreach."

He said the California law was a "trade barrier'' in violation of the nationwide free-trade zone established by the Constitution. "The law reaches beyond the borders of that state and attempts to assert authority over producers in other states," he said. "California should immediately correct its own actions, repeal the law and avoid more egg on its face."
This story was updated on 3/6/2014 at 8:20 p.m.

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