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PD Editorial: An Iowa fox in California's hen house

  • Raising chickens in your yard:? Nick Rupiper, owner of Nixchix, is the go-to guy for figuring which chickens are right for you,how to build a henhouse and more. His laying hens get organic feed (corn meal) and greens, and oyster shell to benefit their own shells at his Sonoma chicken spread.

Rep. Steve King is a small-government conservative, a tea-party darling who will enthusiastically tell you that Washington meddles too much in state and local affairs.

Until he disagrees with local voters and their elected representatives.

Then he's all for Washingon laying down the law.

King, R-Iowa, doesn't like a California law that sets standards for humane treatment of hens on egg-producing farms.

You may not be surprised to learn that there are 42 million hens in King's district — about 80 birds for every human — making it the Big Roost in the nation's top egg-producing state.

But this isn't a simple tale of a congressman sticking up for a local industry — at least not the industry in question. Contrary to King's stance, the the Iowa Poultry Association, the egg lobby in King's home state, has endorsed national standards for humane treatment based on California's law.

Legislation to set such standards is stalled in the Senate. In the House, meanwhile, King is working on behalf of beef and pork producers, who fear that they too could be yoked to humane treatment standards, to undermine California's law.

Five years ago, Golden State voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2, which requires that cages on California farms be large enough for chickens to stand up, turn around and spread their wings. How much space is that? About as much as an 8?-by-11-inch sheet of paper.

The initiative takes effect in 2015, and so does a statute adopted by the Legislature to apply the same standard for any eggs sold in California.

King cried foul. He says states are free to set standards for their own farms, but those standards shouldn't apply to food produced in other states.

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