Utah, other states engaged in high-stakes game of chicken

Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Utah is among a group of states suing California and Massachusetts over laws they allege are unconstitutional and overly restrictive in how they regulate the sale of eggs across state lines.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month in the U.S. Supreme Court, Utah and a dozen other states are challenging California’s law requiring egg producers to comply with its new and much more restrictive farming regulations in order to sell eggs in in the state, according to a statement issued by Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes.

Authority to regulate interstate commerce rests with Congress, not California bureaucrats,” Reyes said in the statement. “This restriction is a great example of the job-killing regulations that have sent so many Californians fleeing to more business-friendly states, like Utah.

“And the practical effect of this protectionist regulatory scheme is increased egg prices nationwide. Eggs are one of the top sources of protein for families living below the poverty line. While affluent families may be able to absorb higher egg prices, many poorer families cannot. I believe this is having a disproportionate impact on lower income families.”

In this file photo, chickens in the coop at Red Acre Farm CSA, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 13, 2016 | Photo by Carin Miller, St. George News

The lawsuit, filed Dec. 4, claims that the California law, which took effect in 2015, has cost U.S. consumers up to $350 million annually in higher egg costs.

The suit alleges that California’s regulations violate both a federal law prohibiting states from imposing their own standards on eggs produced in other states and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress exclusive authority to regulate commerce among and between states, the statement said.

Utah is joined in the lawsuit by Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. The states are asking the Supreme Court to take up the case directly instead of requiring that it first move through the lower courts.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts is being sued by 13 other states that claim a voter-approved law to ban the sale of eggs and other food products from farm animals that are confined in overly restrictive cages is unconstitutional.

The states filed the lawsuit with the Supreme Court last week. Utah is joined in the suit by Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin

The 2016 ballot question in Massachusetts was approved by more than 77 percent of voters. It requires, among other things, that only cage-free eggs may be sold in the state by 2022, regardless of where the eggs were produced.

The law backed by animal protection groups defines an overly restrictive cage as one that would prevent an egg-laying hen, breeding pig or calf raised for veal from standing up, turning around or fully extending its limbs.

In their complaint, the states claim that Massachusetts is attempting to impose its own regulatory standards on farmers in other states, in violation of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

They claim that farmers “will have to increase their production costs by decreasing flock or herd size, investing in new infrastructure and undertaking contentious zoning approval processes.”

“If they do not, they must forego completely any sales in Massachusetts or to national distributors that may resell products in Massachusetts,” according to the suit.

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said it had received the lawsuit and was reviewing it, but had no additional comment.

Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy for the Humane Society of the United States, said opponents of the law are “grasping at straws” and he expects the legal challenge to fail.

“Massachusetts has an interest in protecting its consumers from inhumane and substandard production of eggs,” Shapiro said.

The states said the action was filed directly with the Supreme Court because it has jurisdiction over lawsuits between states.

Critics of the cage-free laws also argue they result in price increases for consumers, but Shapiro said most studies have predicted the Massachusetts law would add only a penny or two to the cost of an egg.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

 

 

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6 Comments

  • DRT December 18, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    And of course, only the lawyers will win, no matter what the courts decide. smh

  • desertgirl December 18, 2017 at 8:19 pm

    As a libertarian, I despise the majority of unnecessary regulations; cramming chickens together or any other animal the way many farmers and producers do is inhumane. Enough said.
    Banning eggs is downright un-American and simply ridiculous. Don’t tell people what they should eat, nun-ya biz.

  • utahdiablo December 18, 2017 at 8:31 pm

    Aw heck, let’s just let all the folks of Washington County have chickens in their yards, that’ll fix it….

  • mesaman December 18, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Would the humane (?) society like to have the eggs taken by Caesarean section, thus saving the poor ‘lil chickies the pain of delivery?

  • Lee Sanders December 18, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    I, for one, prefer the taste of cage-free eggs over the industrially produced eggs. I wouldn’t mind paying one or two more cents per egg. I know that the cramped cage method is the cheapest way to produce eggs, but other industries have found ways to become more efficient in the face of consumer protection regulations, the automobile industry, for example.

  • Caveat_Emptor December 19, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    If the dimwits here in Utah do not like the regulations that apply to California, then do not attempt to sell eggs there. California is entitled to apply their own set of rules, for example, air quality regulations, which have driven numerous industries out of the state to places like Utah where people appear to care less…….California’s demand for clean electricity sources is dampening demand for electrons from the likes of IPP in Delta, and other coal polluting operations. Their ratepayers are stuck with a higher cost per KWH.
    Sean Reyes must be enjoying campaign contributions for Utah poultry producers in order to throw away Utah taxpayer dollars on useless legal boondoggles……

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