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States asking SCOTUS to directly decide legality of states' egg laws

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Legal efforts are continuing in ongoing attempts to ensure that shell eggs produced by caged hens may be sold in California and Massachusetts, after ballot initiatives passed in both states limiting the types of systems that could be used to produce eggs sold there.

Indiana is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by 13 states against Massachusetts. Missouri is the lead plaintiff in a similar lawsuit filed against California, also by 13 states. Both ask the court to hear the disputes directly, citing economic analyses showing that the restrictions of cage-free eggs place a burden on consumers.

At issue is a 2015 law passed in California requiring eggs sold there to be produced in cage-free houses. Massachusetts passed a similar law, set to go into effect in 2022, requiring eggs to be produced by chickens with at least 1.5 feet of living space.

The law in each state was passed after voter referenda, by ballot initiatives, required retailers in those states to sell eggs produced in cage-free systems.

The lawsuits are supported by some egg producers, as well as groups advocating for a breadth of consumer choices. The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) filed an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief in opposition of the laws.

“California and Massachusetts shouldn’t get to dictate how farmers in Iowa, North Carolina or any other state care for their animals,” said Will Coggin, managing director of CCF. “The Supreme Court should strike down these unconstitutional laws that drive up costs and restrict choices for consumers and farmers.”

The constitutional question is whether the laws of one state can require producers in another state to produce eggs in a certain way. The commercial egg industry wants consumers to be able to vote with their pocketbooks on which eggs they consume.

Eggs can be produced more cheaply in cage systems, according to the economic analysis accompanying the lawsuits, and those lower prices are passed along to consumers.

The Supreme Court can hear cases between states directly, and that decision could come later this year. However, according to the National Constitution Center, the court infrequently grants such hearings, known as original jurisdiction.

A new egg industry group that champions the interests of facilities using caged egg-laying systems will convene its first meeting on March 13 in Minneapolis, one day before the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention. The National Assoc. of Egg Farmers, which formed as a nonprofit in October 2017, lists as its mission to “ensure that the entire U.S. egg Industry fights to remain market-driven with consumer choice being maintained.”

Egg production in cages has been widely targeted by animal activist groups, led by the Humane Society of the U.S. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that federal agencies were not obligated to issue regulations requiring egg cartons to be labeled with the conditions in which egg-laying hens were kept during production.