Egg producers welcome demise of farm bill amendment

01/30/2014

The latest version of the federal farm bill, which passed in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, omitted a provision that would have banned state laws such as one requiring poultry eggs entering California to meet the state’s animal welfare standards. Local producers say competition with eggs from states in which chickens are still cooped up in tight cages could have threatened the industry. 

The King amendment, authored by Rep. Steve King of Iowa (R), would have prevented California from implementing A.B. 1437, a bill introduced by Jared Huffman, passed by lawmakers in 2010 and set to go into effect in 2015. That bill requires all eggs sold in California to meet the state’s stringent welfare standards enacted through a 2008 voter-approved law. Proposition 2, also set to go into effect in 2015, mandated that egg producers raise poultry in non-confining cages so that birds can at least turn around and extend their limbs. 

Petaluma’s Sunrise Farms, which produces a million eggs a day, could have seen damages to its bottom line, said managing partner Arnie Riebli. All of Sunrise Farms’ eggs meet California’s future cage requirements, and 20 percent are cage-free.

Mr. Riebli, who is also the president of the Association of California Egg Farmers, said Rep. King’s amendment ran counter to the heart of modern conservatism: states’ rights.

“He believes in states’ rights except when he doesn’t,” Mr. Riebli said. “California has these rules. That’s states’ rights...  He had a problem within himself.”

The King amendment could have also weakened state laws on labor practices, food safety and labeling. Mr. Riebli said those laws are more stringent in California than in some other states, and pointed to California protocols that have protected eggs from salmonella contamination. 

Despite the scrapping of the amendment, he doesn’t believe the issue has been laid to roost. Someone could try to challenge the law in court, Mr. Riebli said, or animal rights activists could hatch a plan to require even more space. 

If the bill is approved by the Senate and signed into law, it will be in place for the next five years. The bill covers a host of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—commonly known as food stamps—and farm aid. The current version of the bill would cut SNAP’s budget by about 1 percent a year, meaning close to a million families would receive about $90 less a month. Rep. Huffman criticized the cuts but voted for the bill. 

The bill would end direct payments to grain and cotton farmers regardless of yield in favor of a beefed-up insurance program. Organic farms would also benefit from a new provision that allows them to insure their crops for their organic retail value, not just their conventional value.