California's egg farmers have filed a lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court seeking a determination that Proposition 2 (Prop 2) – a law regulating egg-laying hen enclosures - is unconstitutionally vague. The law's lack of clarity in housing size and density requirements prevents egg farmers from modifying their housing facilities in time to comply with the Jan. 1, 2015, implementation date, according to the suit.
"California's egg farmers have spent the last four years attempting to gain a clear understanding of how to comply with Prop. 2 but, unfortunately, we are no closer today to knowing how to comply than we were when the law first passed in 2008," said Arnie Riebli, president of the Association of California Egg Farmers (ACEF). He added, "Given the ambiguity in Proposition 2 and the risk of criminal prosecution for violating it, egg farmers have no choice other than to challenge the validity of the law."
ACEF points out that its members support the goal of providing appropriate space to egg-laying hens and have worked to establish a national standard for egg-laying hen enclosures. Last year, ACEF joined with the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to support congressional efforts to establish national standards on egg-laying hen enclosures, including dimensions and other key elements that are not found in Prop. 2.
"Time has become a major issue for California egg farmers who need to know the size and density requirements for the enclosures they must build now prior to the law's compliance date in 25 months," added Debbie Murdock, ACEF executive director. "The lack of clarity regarding hen enclosure standards has become dire because it will require an investment of more than $400 million from the state's egg farmers and an estimated three years to construct new facilities in California."
Since the passage of Prop. 2 in 2008, ACEF has advocated the use of housing systems that provide 116 square inches of space per hen compared to 67 square inches of space in a conventional cage, the group clarified. But HSUS – the author of Prop. 2 – says the law requires anywhere from 200 square inches of enclosure space per bird to a cage-free environment. However, HSUS has never explained how it reached either interpretation, ACEF noted.
"While we know that Proposition 2 does not require California egg farms to be cage-free, the law is very ambiguous and provides no clarity as to what is required to comply with Proposition 2," said Dale Stern, attorney for ACEF. He added, "With the law taking effect in just over two years, egg farmers cannot afford to wait any longer to begin construction on new hen enclosures but their dilemma is making a multi-million dollar investment in new housing systems that could end up being considered illegal. The California Attorney General has been unwilling or unable to take a position on this key point. The State Department of Food and Agriculture commissioned a study at the University of California-Davis which concluded that the law is unclear. As a result, ACEF has no choice but to reluctantly seek invalidation of this poorly drafted proposition."
If California egg farmers decide it is easier to relocate to another state to produce eggs rather than risk trying to comply with an uncertain law and be found in violation, a reduction in locally produced eggs will have many ramifications for California consumers. Not only will egg prices to consumers substantially increase, but jobs will be lost, adding to increased costs to taxpayers for required social services. There will also be more truck traffic on roads to transport eggs from other states, further adding to pollution and impacted roadways.
Said ACEF's Riebli, "Unfortunately, consumers need to realize that the availability of safe, fresh California eggs may no longer exist in the very near future. We filed this lawsuit because without some clarity, many California egg farmers are now being forced to rethink their plans to operate in California in the years ahead."