WASHINGTON — A dispute over a 2010 California law over the treatment of egg-laying chickens looks like it may add to the complications for congressional negotiators trying to hammer out an agreement on a new five year farm bill this week.
The law has its origins in a 2008 ballot initiative in California pushed by animal rights groups that mandated that all eggs produced in California must come from hens who have enough space to spread their wings in their coops, far more space than most commercial egg operations provide.
Two year later, lawmakers in the Golden State passed a law requiring out of state producers to comply with those regulations if they wished to sell in California.
The California law doesn't sit well with producers in the Midwest, where most of the nation's eggs are produced. That includes Minnesota, the eighth largest producer of eggs in the country.
In the House, lawmakers added language to their farm bill that would prohibit states from enforcing standards that affect producers in other states. It’s not in the Senate version of the farm bill. In a first meeting between House members and senators to write a compromise bill, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa was adamant that the standards language should stay.
"Bottom line of it is that no state should be allowed to regulate the production in other states,” said King, who wrote the language. “Any state, including California, is free to regulate, even over-regulate their producers, but not the other 49 states."
But King’s amendment is dividing members more by region than by party.
"States have the rights to develop their own ag laws,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham of California, who deployed a traditional conservative states' rights argument to argue against King's amendment.