Updated: Jan 13, 2021
How did a larger cage for the hens in California challenge the ground of the Constitution? Let’s take a look at the egg science here.
At least five states sued to block a California egg law from taking effect in 2020. The law, which requires larger cages for the hens producing eggs sold in California, was challenged on the grounds that it violates the Constitutional principle of interstate commerce.
The new California egg law requires farmers to keep laying hens in cages large enough for them to sit down, stand up, and fully spread their wings. Chickens were typically kept in battery cages so small and crowded that they could barely move. Animal welfare organizations like the Humane Society believe that the new California egg law will reduce animal suffering and allow chickens to engage in important behaviors such as perching and dust bathing. By January 1, 2022, all eggs sold must be from chickens with access to cage-free housing and minimum space per hen.
Is the California Egg Law Setting a New Precedent?
The egg law was established when California voters approved Proposition 2 in 2008. The law initially applied only to Californian farmers, but farmers complained that the costs of installing new cages would give out-of-state farmers a competitive advantage. Lawmakers responded by requiring all imported eggs to meet the same standards.
Out-of-state farmers were concerned that the California egg law would either cost them millions of dollars or force them out of the largest domestic egg market. Furthermore, they’re worried that the new law will set a precedent for California consumers to regulate the production of other commodities such as pork and beef. In an interview with NPR, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning explained, “We can’t have our farmers and ranchers at the whim of California’s voters, and that’s why we filed the lawsuit.”
Supporters of the law argue that out-of-state farmers are free to seek alternative markets if they don’t want to change their production practices. They believe that California voters have the right to determine what can be sold within their borders.
The California law represents a battle between the Price and Moral Systems of Exchange.
Price v. Morals
The California egg law represents a battle between the Price and Moral Systems. The California voters who voted “yes” on Proposition 2 were motivated by moral concerns for animal welfare. On the other hand, the out-of-state farmers and attorneys who oppose the law have expressed price-based concerns for unencumbered markets. In their view, the California egg law is a barrier to free trade. In 2020, the California law was upheld.
The “California Effect”
This strengthening of environmental & consumer regulations is known as the “California Effect.” David Vogel, professor of business and political science at UC Berkeley, coined the term after observing that powerful states and nation-states often propel shifts toward stricter collective standards.
It remains to be seen whether the new California egg law will be another example of the “California Effect.” Even if California wins the battle to set their own egg standards, there is no guarantee that other states — or the federal government — will follow suit.