WASHINGTON—Congress to California: Here’s bit of egg on your face.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers failed to kill a provision in the farm bill that blocks California from requiring that eggs imported into the state come from hens who have enough room to spread their wings.
The measure in the farm bill now before the House would prohibit one state from imposing conditions on another state’s production of agricultural goods. The prohibition was sought by Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, the biggest egg-producing state, who contends that California has exceeded its authority and interfered with Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.
A group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from California’s agriculture-producing Central Valley, sought a vote by the full House to remove the prohibition and substitute national standards for hen housing.
But the Republican-led House Rules Committee late Tuesday rejected his request on a largely party-line 7-3 vote. Committee Chairman Pete Session (R-Texas) said the issue had been considered at length by the House Agriculture Committee.
The decision infuriated Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, who called for defeat of the House farm bill. Accusing the beef and pork lobbies of working to block a vote on national standards, he wrote on his blog, "Maybe we would listen to these people if cows and pigs laid eggs, but they do not."
National standards for treatment of hens have been endorsed by the industry group United Egg Producers, which contends that it would help farmers deal with a patchwork of state animal welfare laws. But the idea has drawn opposition from the beef and pork industries and other farm groups, which say it could lead to greater federal regulation of agriculture.
The King prohibition could run into trouble during House-Senate negotiations on a final farm bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) signed onto a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to establish national standards for the treatment of hens.
Critics of King’s measure have warned that it could nullify more than 150 state laws around the country, many of them dealing with animal welfare. They also say it would hurt California by forcing its egg farmers, but not their out-of-state competitors, to comply with voter-approved rules for more humane treatment of hens.
"Our egg industry could be in a position where we may go out of business,’’ Denham warned Wednesday.
California voters in 2008 approved Proposition 2, requiring state chicken farmers to give egg-laying birds enough room to stand and spread their wings. State legislation passed two years later added a requirement that, when the initiative takes effect in 2015, eggs sold in the state come from farms that meet the California standards.
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