From The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa:
Four years ago, California voters overwhelmingly approved a landmark law requiring humane conditions for egg-laying chickens.
State legislators subsequently extended the ban on cramped cages to farmers who ship eggs into California from other states or countries. Last year, egg farmers and animal rights advocates reached an accord on a national standard, recognizing public expectations of humane conditions for farm animals.
All that's needed now is congressional approval.
But an Iowa congressman's midnight raid on the henhouse is threatening California's protections for hens and any other state law governing the treatment of farm animals or safety of produce and other farm products.
During a late-night session of the House Agriculture Committee last week, GOP Rep. Steve King attached an amendment to the farm bill that would prohibit states from imposing standards for agriculture products on producers from other states.
King's primary target was a law passed in 2009 and sponsored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. Beginning in 2015, the law will require out-of-state farmers who send eggs to California to comply with Proposition 2, the 2008 ballot initiative that, also beginning in 2015, says that cages must be large enough for chickens to stand up, turn around and spread their wings.
"If California wants to regulate eggs that come into the state, fine," King said. "But don't be telling the states that are producing a product that's already approved by the USDA or the FDA how to produce that product."
California egg farmers fought Proposition 2, but they have since worked with its main sponsor, the Humane Society of the United States, on a national standard. Cattlemen and pork producers, afraid they might be next, don't want any standard enacted.
Arnie Riebli, a Petaluma egg farmer who helped craft the accord, said King's amendment would strangle California's egg industry, because farmers in other states could undercut local prices.
"We, as California producers, would have no choice but to see if we could get Prop. 2 overturned," he said. "And we don't want to." Proposition 2 is just one of the laws put at risk by King's amendment. It also could nullify California's foie gras ban, which took effect this month. It threatens veal-pen laws in Arizona, California and Florida, and it could prevent states from enforcing its herbicide and pesticide standards on imported fruits and vegetables.
House Speaker John Boehner hasn't committed to a vote on the farm bill, which comes up every five years for renewal. But the bill also includes authorization for the food stamps program as well as crop insurance for growers, which expire this year, so there will be great pressure to bring it up for a vote.
The Senate version of the farm, as we noted last month, is unfortunately silent on the issue of egg farms. But if the House ultimately passes King's amendment, a conference committee will have to reconcile the two bills. Eliminating this sneak attack on California voters should be a top priority.