California’s state government is so concerned about the survival of an obscure species of smelt that it has effectively rendered some of the most productive farmland in that state a desert wasteland devoid of water. Having so successfully <ahem> managed that crisis, California state legislators have now turned their attention to the plight of poultry kept for the purpose of harvesting their eggs and selling them for human consumption.
A new law passed by the California legislature requires chicken farmers to maintain their hens in an environment that allows at least 116 square inches of space per bird for enclosures housing nine or more chickens, 30 to 49 square inches per bird larger than industry guidelines that currently apply to roughly eight in 10 egg-laying hens raised in the U.S. California chicken farmers complained they would have to either expand their henhouses or thin their flocks to meet this standard, increasing their costs relative to out-of-state egg producers and putting them at a competitive disadvantage.
Instead of backing down from the new regulation, California state legislators doubled down — expanding the regulation to apply to any egg producers, REGARDLESS OF LOCATION, who market their product in the state of California. And since the state of California is the most populous state and, consequently, the largest domestic market for egg producers, I guess the California lawmakers and bureaucrats felt entitled to flex their economic muscle.
Missouri was the first to file a lawsuit contesting the California law, and five other states, including Nebraska, joined the suit in March. They contend the California law violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
In the reading I’ve done about the California measure, I can’t find any alleged connection between the law and the quality of the product — hens’ eggs — that is the subject of the regulation. There’s no allegation that eggs from chickens raised in closer quarters are substandard or pose some sort of health or safety threat to humans. No. The concern is for the hens, not people.
Art Krug, the stand-up comic who wrote the greeting card pictured at the beginning of this article, is typical of those among us who didn’t have the advantage of growing up on a working farm. On the back of the pictured greeting card he writes:
“A vegetarian woman once asked me after my show if I would eat a chicken if I had to kill it myself. No. Gross. I prefer to think of my chickens dying peacefully in their sleep, family circled around, doctor checking the pulse and declaring, ‘Well, he’s gone. Seems a shame to let him go to waste. How ’bout we honor his memory with a little BBQ sauce?”
If the contention is that the housing provided the hens by egg producers is so crowded it constitutes overt and intentional animal cruelty, we already have laws against that. And, as a farm girl born and raised, I have more than a bit of a problem with a bunch of granola-crunching city folks who have no personal experience with where food comes from other than the corner market (preferably Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) regulating the conditions under which those of us who DO know where food comes from go about our job of feeding them and the rest of the world.
The greeting card pictured at the beginning of this article was produced by Frank & Funny, cards written by stand-up comics, frankandfunny.com, and purchased by this author at a local drug store.