Missouri Sues California over Promoting Animal WelfarePosted by Kelsey McLean, ALDF Guest Blogger on April 9, 2014
Over three years ago, California voters spoke loud and clear about their position on animal welfare and food safety. Californians voted to pass the Prevention of Farmed Animal Cruelty Act, which bans any farmed animal from being kept in a confined space without room to stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs. One of the problems targeted by this new law is the egg industry’s use of battery cages. A traditional battery cage can contain up to 11 birds, each spending their entire lives with less individual space than a sheet of printer paper. The cages are so cramped that hens often get trapped or impaled by the cage wire. Also, without the ability to move freely or extend their wings for months or years, the birds’ bones and muscles deteriorate.
Although the suffering that battery-cage chickens experience is troubling enough, it is only part of the problem. Studies have shown that eggs are the most common host of salmonella, and battery-cage eggs have an overwhelmingly higher rate of salmonella contamination than eggs produced more humanely. The California legislature, fulfilling its duty to protect its citizens from these dangers, extended the ban on the sale of battery-cage eggs to include those coming from both California producers and out-of-state producers.
Fast forward to February of 2014; Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a lawsuit against the State of California. He says that banning the sale of battery-cage eggs violates the Commerce Clause, a Constitutional provision that essentially prohibits states from unfairly burdening interstate commerce by giving advantages to in-state producers that disadvantage those out of state. Missouri has an industrialized system for egg production that utilizes battery cages. Missouri also exports approximately one-third of its eggs to California. Now, Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma have joined Koster’s lawsuit, deciding that factory farming profits hold a higher value than human health and animal welfare.
California is no stranger to these types of lawsuits. Courts have upheld California’s right to ban the sale of shark fins and to enforce stricter emission standards on cars, both of which would affect out-of-state parties. Agricultural producers also recently challenged California’s ban on the production and sale of foie gras, arguing that the foie gras ban violated the Commerce Clause. The Ninth Circuit disagreed and upheld the ban, saying that California held a legitimate interest in banning the sale of foie gras, and that the ban applied equally to all states, giving California no economic advantage over any other state. This is the exact situation that Attorney General Koster is up against in the current lawsuit. It seems difficult to see how Missouri, or any other state, can prove that the ban treats its egg producers any differently than California’s producers. Under the traditional authority of state law, California also has a legitimate interest in ensuring the safety of its residents by reducing the risk of food borne illnesses.
Instead of encouraging Missouri egg farmers to meet these basic welfare standards, Koster has chosen to spend taxpayer money to attack the California law. Let’s hope that the federal courts will continue to allow California to lead the way in animal protection.