California egg producers, through the Association of California Egg Farmers (ACEF), are filing a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit which challenges the legal validity of Proposition 2 - a law regulating egg-laying hen enclosures. The suit was filed by William Cramer, a Riverside County egg farmer who is not a member of ACEF.
While Cramer sets forth several grounds for his dispute with the law, ACEF's challenge to Proposition 2 is focused on the claim that it is unconstitutionally vague and does not inform egg farmers how to confine their hens so as to avoid the criminal penalties that are part of the law. The decision to enter this lawsuit was not made lightly but time has become a major issue for California egg farmers who need to know now the requirements for the enclosures they must build prior to the law taking effect on January 1, 2015 when compliance with Proposition 2 becomes mandatory. The lack of clarity regarding hen enclosure standards has become dire because it will require an investment of $400 million from the state's egg farmers and three years to construct new facilities in California.
While California egg farmers struggle to deal with Proposition 2, the recent passage of the "King Amendment" to the 2012 Farm Bill by the House Agriculture Committee has only made matters worse. The King Amendment would exempt out-of-state egg farmers selling eggs into California from complying with Proposition 2, something which would threaten the interests of California consumers as well as place California egg farmers at a severe economic and competitive disadvantage.
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"Passage of the King Amendment will devastate California's fresh egg industry by removing all quality and safety standards and enable out-of-state egg producers to avoid having to comply with Proposition 2," said Arnie Riebli, President of ACEF. He added, "Consumers need to realize that the availability of safe, fresh California eggs they have come to expect may no longer exist. Given the risk of criminal prosecution for violating Proposition 2 and the risks created by the King Amendment, we have no choice but file this motion to enable our industry to survive."
In 2010, California enacted Assembly Bill 1437 to protect California consumers by requiring all eggs sold in California, including those from out of state, to meet the requirements of Proposition 2. California imports approximately 40% of the eggs consumed in the state. While the meaning of Proposition 2 is unclear in most respects, it is clear that it would ban the sort of battery cages currently used in California and most other states. California consumers have the right to expect that all eggs bought in California are produced under the same conditions as eggs produced within the state. And, California producers have the right to expect that their out of state competitors must meet the same production requirements. The King Amendment seeks to remove these protections.
ACEF supports the goal of providing appropriate space to egg laying hens. ACEF has joined with the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to support Senator Dianne Feinstein's Egg Products Inspection Act amendments which would establish preemptive national standards on egg laying hen enclosures, including dimensions and other key elements that are not found in Proposition 2.
ACEF also joined HSUS and UEP in supporting the House counterpart, HR 3798, which is co-sponsored by California Representatives Jeff Denham (R), Elton Gallegly (R), and Sam Farr (D). Unfortunately, while the Senate Agriculture Committee recently held a hearing on this legislation, it failed to include it in the Farm Bill and it is unclear whether the bills will be taken up this year. ACEF will continue to work toward a national standard for egg laying hen enclosures, but this may take years to achieve. California egg farmers are between "a rock and a hard place" and have no option but to now seek to invalidate Proposition 2.
"We simply cannot wait until ACEF members are criminally prosecuted to find out what Proposition 2 means and we cannot live with the King Amendment which would effectively put California egg farmers out of business," said Debbie Murdock, executive director of ACEF.