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Egg war? California law sparks tensions, threats in farm bill talks

November 20, 2013|By Richard Simon
  • Eggs are sorted at a plant in Atwater, Calif.
Eggs are sorted at a plant in Atwater, Calif. (Tomas Ovalle )

WASHINGTON -- California’s egg law has emerged as a contentious issue in congressional negotiations over a farm bill.

The Humane Society has funded a $100,000 ad campaign to defeat federal legislation that would prevent California from requiring that eggs imported into the state be produced under standards that give hens enough room to spread their wings.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund is running online ads in the states of nearly a dozen House-Senate negotiators. The ads do not mention the California law but show an image of a shopper in a grocery store and warn that a "dangerous federal overreach’’ threatens state laws that protect animals and the food supply. Voters are urged to tell their lawmakers to "stop this reckless attack on states’ rights.’’ 

At issue is a provision of the House-passed farm bill that would prevent California from implementing a 2010 state law requiring that eggs sold in the state beginning in 2015 come from farms that meet voter-approved standards on the treatment of hens.

The California law is one of a number of contentious issues facing House-Senate negotiators on the farm bill, including proposed cuts to the food stamp program and the level of funding for other farm programs.

Rep. Steve King, a Republican from egg-producing Iowa, has made it a priority to try to include in a final farm bill language that would prohibit "interference by state and local governments with production or manufacture of items in other states.’’

King has argued that California exceeded its authority and interfered with Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce by imposing conditions on farmers who want to sell eggs in the nation’s most populous state.

"Any state, including California, is free to regulate, even over-regulate their producers, but not to regulate the other 49 states,’’ he said recently at the opening of negotiations on the farm bill.

King, in an interview outside the House chamber, disputed that his measure would nullify a wide range of state laws.

"My amendment does not nullify any state legislation that is constitutional,’’ he said. He blasted the Humane Society, declaring that "it’s the vegan lobby versus the Constitution and American freedom.’’

King’s measure also has drawn opposition from California lawmakers from both parties.

His supporters, however, have also weighed in with negotiators.

Ken Klippen, a consultant to the Egg Farmers of America recently wrote Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) warning that unless King’s measure is included in a final bill, egg shipments to California, mostly from Iowa, will be stopped on Jan. 1, 2015, and "flood the Midwestern markets, depressing prices.’’

He also warned that egg prices in California would increase.

"California should not be allowed to dictate production methods to the rest of the country,’’ Klippen said in an email to The Times. "This has the makings of an internal US trade war. If it starts with eggs, you can be sure it won't end with eggs.”

richard.simon@latimes.com

 
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