Edging Away from Cruel Eggs Part 4—California, and now Massachusetts!

Battery Cages (Maqi-commonswiki)
Read "Edging Away from Cruel Eggs: Part 1 - California’s Prop 2"

Read "Edging Away From Cruel Eggs: Part 2—Slogging Toward Enactment"

Read "Edging Away from Cruel Eggs – Part 3: Strange Coop-Fellows"

On Election Day, 2016 a fantastic new law was approved by voters and practically nobody noticed!  Question 3 was approved by 78% of Massachusetts voters--when enacted it will “prohibit any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.”  With that vote, which was worded very much like California’s Proposition 2, the citizens of Massachusetts mandated that certain cruel animal husbandry practices, including battery cages for laying hens, will no longer be allowed.  The measure also bans the sale in Massachusetts of cruelly produced eggs and meat from other states.  The Massachusetts law will go into effect in 2022 and prior to that it will no doubt be challenged just as thoroughly as was the California law.  

In parts One, Two and Three of “Edging Away from Cruel Eggs” I talked about the inherent cruelty of battery cages for laying hens, how California voters decided to ban them, and how that ban was subjected to numerous legal challenges by the egg lobby and other interests.

The final challenge hanging over the California law was filed in 2014.  The plaintiffs were the states of Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Kentucky, represented by their attorneys general, and Iowa, represented by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.  In their challenge, they argued that the California law protecting hens was unconstitutional because in stipulating that cruelly produced eggs from other states could not be sold in California, it interfered with interstate commerce and would unjustly harm the citizens of those states—each of the plaintiff states was an agricultural state that produced lots of eggs.

After the Eastern District Court of California dismissed the case, the plaintiffs appealed to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and I am happy to report that the dust has finally settled.  The week after Election Day, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that it was not appropriate for those state officials to make suit against the law because they weren’t really representing the citizens of their states but rather were acting on behalf of a small group of companies that sold eggs. The court went on to say that potential harm to this small group of egg producers wasn’t sufficient to bring a case in the name of entire states, and that, in fact, rather than harming citizens, the law might even “benefit consumers.”

Score one for the chickens AND consumers!  It is also worth noting that Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster who led the anti-chicken suit lost in his bid to be Missouri governor, while California Attorney General Kamala Harris who led the pro-chicken forces was just elected as California’s new US Senator.  Karma, don’t you think?

With California, Washington, Oregon, and now Massachusetts legislating in favor of more humane standards for chickens, inertia is definitely on the side of the chickens.  And forward looking egg companies know that the most successful strategy is to give consumers what they want.  Case in point:  Rembrandt Foods, headquartered in Spirit Lake, Iowa, is Iowa’s largest egg producing company.  The company is owned by Glen Taylor, a Minnesota billionaire who grew up on a farm near Mankato, Minnesota.  Mr. Taylor, keeps bees and some chickens as well as a variety of other critters as a hobbyist.  He is also a rock-solid Republican businessman, and very interested in and very good at making money.  He decided as early as 2014, that the future of the egg business was cage-free.  He has obviously decided that a more humane cage-free system ultimately would cut costs and help his company line up with markets.  To that end, he’s moving to cage-free egg production for the millions of Rembrandt hens. The company website announces “As Rembrandt Foods continues to grow and expand, cage-free egg production will become the company’s standard…We welcome the growing movement of major food companies switching exclusively to cage-free eggs. With a reasonable timeline, we can meet any demand, and we’re eager to move our clients into the cage-free future.”  So Rembrandt Foods stands ready to provide eggs to the more than 150 major companies including Disney, Campbell's Soup, Kroger, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Walmart that are shifting to cage-free eggs.

You can join the anti-cruel egg revolution as well!  Even if you don’t live in one of the states with laws on the books, you can vote with your buying habits.  In a future post I’ll talk about how to make sure you’re buying humane eggs and how to understand the confusing claims and labels on many egg cartons.

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