A lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster challenges a California law set to take effect January 1, 2015, that prohibits shell eggs from being sold in California if they were produced by hens raised in cages that don't comply with California's new size and space requirements. Koster said the California law infringes on the interstate commerce protections of the U.S. Constitution by effectively imposing new requirements on out-of-state farmers.

Missouri's lawsuit was filed February 3 in U.S. District Court in Fresno, Calif. The potential fallout from the rumored lawsuit was a hot topic of conversation at the United Egg Producers meeting in Atlanta in late January. Several egg producers suggested that if the lawsuit prevails, it would have a devastating impact on California egg production. The filing of the Missouri lawsuit was expected after the Farm Bill passed without either the King or Egg Bill amendments attached. If the Missouri challenge doesn't succeed, there likely will be other legal challenges forthcoming. 

The Humane Society of the United States, which campaigned for Proposition 2, said in a statement that states have the right to pass laws that protect the health and safety of their residents. California voters approved Proposition 2 in 2008, and it requires that egg-laying hens, pigs and calves be raised with enough space to allow the animals to lie down, stand up, turn around, and fully extend their limbs without touching another animal or the sides of the enclosure. The ballot initiative gave farmers until 2015 to comply with the provisions.

After voters approved the initiative, concerns were raised that the measure would put California egg farmers at a competitive disadvantage with counterparts in other states. In 2010, California legislators expanded the law to ban the sale of eggs in California from any hens that were not raised in compliance with California's animal care standards. The California law cites concerns about protecting people from salmonella and other illnesses.

The Missouri lawsuit contends that food safety is not the real intent of the 2010 law; rather, it was to protect California farmers from being put at a disadvantage with their counterparts in other states.

Missouri farmers produce about 1.7 billion eggs annually and sell about one-third of those, about 540 million eggs, in California, according to Koster's lawsuit. Missouri is the second-largest egg exporter to California, behind Iowa.

Many of Missouri's hens are raised in cages that won't meet California's new standards. Koster said Missouri farmers would have to spend about $120 million to remodel their cages or forgo sales to one of their most important markets, which could force some Missouri egg producers out of business.