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California Judge Tosses Out Missouri Suit Against New Egg-Laying Regulations


Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has lost the first round of a legal fight to protect Missouri egg producers from stricter California regulations.

A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by Missouri and five other states on behalf of their egg producers. Those states oppose a California law, set to go in effect in January,  that would bar the sale of eggs from states that allow hens to be housed in enclosures deemed too cramped.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller dismissed the suit, saying the state governments lacked legal standing because they failed to prove that California’s restrictions would hurt their citizens. Harm to their egg-producing industry wasn’t enough to give the state governments the right to sue, she ruled.

Missouri farm groups say the California requirements will increase egg prices for all consumers because farmers in other states would have to comply to sell their eggs in California.

California is the nation’s most populous state. The suing states say California’s residents purchase and consume about 10 percent of their eggs.

Koster's spokesman said the attorney general and his staff were reviewing the judge’s order before deciding their next step.

“We disagree with the federal court’s opinion that Missouri lacks standing to defend its businesses and consumers against burdensome economic regulation imposed by out-of-state legislatures,” the spokesman said. “We are reviewing our options for further proceedings to resolve the important constitutional questions raised by this suit and left unanswered by the court’s summary dismissal.”

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

Koster filed the suit in February. Five other states -- Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa – signed on in March.

California voters had approved the egg-production restrictions in 2008, in a victory for animal-rights groups. The Humane Society of the United States is among those hailing the latest ruling.

Former Missouri Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, a farmer and an official with the national Humane Society, said in a statement, "This ruling just shows that Chris Koster was not representing the people of Missouri. Koster was using his office — and our tax dollars — to bring a lawsuit on behalf of his big agribusiness backers.”

Maxwell's comments may reflect, in part, the rift between animal-rights groups and Koster -- who plans to run for governor in 2016.  Koster had backed the "right to farm'' constitutional amendment that barely won statewide in August.

The amendment  had been sought by some farm groups, many of whom acknowledged their aim was to block animal-rights groups who had succeeded in narrowly winning statewide approval in 2010 of restrictions on dog breeders. Most of those mandates later were tossed out by the General Assembly.

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