A federal judge has rejected an egg farmer's challenge to a 2008 state ballot measure that requires increased cage space for hens.
The ruling might have limited importance, however, because other egg producers have reached a tentative compromise on national cage standards with the Humane Society of the United States, the chief sponsor of the state measure.
The ruling, issued Wednesday, rejected claims from Wil-liam Cramer of Riverside County that Proposition 2 was too vague and that it interfered with interstate commerce in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Judge John Walter, who heard the case in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, said the measure clearly stated that hens must have enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their wings.
"Proposition 2 establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the law enforcement officer to have the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation of the statute," Walter wrote.
Columbo, for the record, was a TV detective.
Valley watching closely
Proposition 2 has been closely watched in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, a major egg producer.
Before its passage, industry leaders argued that the cage standards were not clear and that even if they were, the cost of new housing would give an advantage to out-of-state farmers.
Despite the uncertainty, J.S. West & Cos. of Modesto started converting its cages in an attempt to comply with Proposition 2, which takes effect at the start of 2015.
J.S. West and other companies last year joined in the compromise with the Humane Society on national standards.
The agreement would roughly double the minimum floor space per hen, now 67 square inches for most U.S. egg producers. It also would require separate areas in each cage for nesting, perching and bathing in dust natural behaviors for a hen.
California farmers would have up to nine years to comply. Those in other states would have up to 18 years.
The compromise would be carried out in legislation introduced by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and three other House members. A similar bill has been introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
"Animal welfare groups and the egg industry had a divisive battle over Proposition 2 but have now come together and found a solution that is good for animal welfare, the egg industry and consumers," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, in a news release.
The sponsors tried without success to make the legislation part of the next farm bill, which will set agricultural policies and spending targets for five years.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2385.
Stanislaus County: 386.8 million eggs in 2011, $32.2 million in gross income to farmers
Merced County: 1.34 billion eggs in 2010, $93.3 million in gross income (2011 figures not available)
San Joaquin County: 232.6 million eggs in 2011, $15.8 million in gross income
Sources: County agricultural commissioners