WASHINGTON — A California law designed to improve the living conditions of hens has drawn opposition from Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who has taken his challenge of the law’s egg-sale restrictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to Kelsey Eberly, staff attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund, California’s Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, or Proposition 2, sets a higher bar for the treatment of egg-laying hens and other farmed animals and requires that California farmers, along with anyone who wants to sell eggs in California, afford each hen adequate space to lie down, stand up, turn around freely and fully extend her limbs.
“In expanding Prop 2’s reach to cover not just eggs produced in state but all eggs sold in California, the General Assembly improved the lives of millions of hens across the country,” Eberly told the Northern California Record.
Hawley’s appeal of the law comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Missouri and five other states did not do enough to prove their claims that Prop 2 hurts the states themselves, instead of just individual farmers, according to an Associated Press report. The other five states are Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky and Iowa, per a statement from the Missouri attorney general's office.
The 9th Circuit upheld a ruling of dismissal by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The circuit court said “the allegations about potential economic effects of the challenged laws, after implementation, were necessarily speculative; and the allegations of discrimination were misplaced because the laws do not distinguish among eggs based on their state of origin.”
Eberly said ALDF participated in a friend-of-the-court capacity as part of the 9th Circuit proceedings.
In a Feb. 16 statement, Hawley’s office said Prop 2 imposes “job-killing regulations on Missouri” and “imposes onerous new regulations on Missouri poultry farmers and would drive the costs of eggs up for Missouri families.”
Hawley said in the statement that the regulations “will cost Missouri farmers tens of millions of dollars.”
Although Prop 2 and its 2010 expansion represented “a major step forward in improving the welfare of egg-laying hens and combating one of the worst forms of farmed-animal confinement,” Eberly said the law “isn’t a cure-all.”
“(Prop 2) does not require that California eggs come from cage-free or pasture-raised hens. Eggs from caged hens can still be sold so long as the cages are large enough to meet the law’s requirements,” she said.
In addition, Eberly said “the law does not affect other cruelties the factory farming industry commonly inflicts on egg-laying hens, like amputating their sensitive beaks without painkillers.”
Aside from protecting the hens who lay the eggs, Eberly said Prop 2 aims to improve food safety for consumers.
“Because battery-cage facilities are often feces-encrusted, pest-infested places in which dead hens may be left to decompose inside cages with live birds, producing eggs in such conditions raises the risk that they will be contaminated by food-borne illness — particularly salmonella — versus producing eggs from hens in a cage-free environment,” she said.
Despite the improvements brought by Prop 2 and similar moves within the egg industry toward cage-free production, Eberly said “the egg market remains a locus of consumer confusion and deception.”