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Koster's Egg Suit Against California Gets Cracking, Now Has Five Allied States


Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s effort to protect Missouri's egg producers from stiffer California mandates is getting support from five states that have joined Missouri’s suit.

The five states are Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Iowa. Combined with Missouri, the six states “produce more than 20 billion eggs per year, 10 percent of which are sold to California consumers,” Koster’s staff said.

Several Missouri farm groups have been in an uproar over California's restrictions, which go into effect in 2015. They claim the stiffer rules would unnecessarily increase costs, and lead to higher egg prices for consumers.

As Koster’s office explains:  “In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 2, a ballot initiative that, beginning in 2015, regulates the size of the enclosures housing egg-laying hens.  To avoid any potential competitive disadvantage to California’s egg producers, the California State Assembly passed legislation (AB1437) in 2010 requiring egg producers in other states to comply with Proposition 2 in order to sell eggs in California.”

Koster filed suit several weeks ago on behalf of Missouri egg producers. The suit, filed in federal court, argues that California’s restrictions violate the U.S. Constitution’s “commerce clause,’’ which bars any individual state from enacting laws that deal with conduct “wholly outside its borders.”

“This case is not just about farming practices,” Koster said in a statement. “At stake is whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state’s citizens, who cannot vote them out of office.”

The suit has attracted national attention because of its potential impact on the regulation of farming practices. The Humane Society of the United States has weighed in with sharp criticism of the suit.

Mo. Attorney General Chris Koster.
Credit (Official Portrait, Missouri Attorney General's office)
Chris Koster

“State officials trying to curry favor with agribusiness interests are letting their political grandstanding trump their better judgment about the rights of states to make laws about the wisdom of having some minimal standards for the care of animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, the society’s president and chief executive.

Pacelle appeared to be alluding to the fact that Koster, a Democrat, is running for Missouri governor in 2016.

The Humane Society said Koster’s suit “could have implications for a raft of state laws duly adopted by legislatures and departments of agriculture that protect agriculture and food safety and reflect the values of the states’ citizens. It puts at risk all state laws on agricultural imports, including on the labeling of seeds and weeds, the sale of adulterated commercial feed, the health of hogs and milk products entering the state, and the testing of cattle for brucellosis, tuberculosis and other diseases.”

In any case, Koster's suit is expected to be a key topic of discussion this weekend when he shows up in Hannibal, Mo., to address rural Democrats -- many of them farmers -- at the regional Democrat Days.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.