Congress threatens California egg-production rules, foie gras ban

  • 8/17/2008: A13: Arnie Riebli, owner of Sunshine Farms, stands in a building 150 yards long with eight levels containing 135,000 caged, egg-producing chickens in western Sonoma County. Riebli's operation produces 1 million eggs per day.
    PC: Arnie Riebli, owner of Sunshine Farms, stands in a building 150 yards long with 8 levels containing 135,000 caged, egg producing chickens in western Sonoma County. Riebli produces 1 million eggs per day and is one of only two companies left on the north coast.

California's laws on foie gras and the treatment of chickens could be undermined by federal legislation that would ban states from setting standards affecting farm products from outside the state.

The House Agriculture Committee this week approved an amendment to the farm bill that would prohibit states from imposing conditions on the sale of agricultural products that come from other states and comply with federal law.

The amendment was aimed at a state law written by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, that sets tougher rules on imported eggs sold in California starting in 2015. The law resulted from a 2008 voter-approved initiative that set strict rules on the treatment of egg-laying chickens in California.

However, the House amendment's broad language also could affect California's ban on the sale of foie gras and its higher standards for milk.

Petaluma egg farmer Arnie Riebli said Friday that California egg farmers won't be able to compete if Congress nullifies the state law. So doing would allow farmers in other states to sell eggs at lower prices in California than eggs from chickens kept in the larger cages.

If the amendment becomes law, Riebli said, "I'm dead. And all the egg producers are in California, too."

The agriculture committee approved the amendment in a marathon session for the once-every-five-years farm bill. The bill cleared the committee early Thursday morning.

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who represents the country's leading egg-producing state, said he introduced the amendment because the California law "scrambles and creates a patchwork quilt of state regulations."

California, he said, shouldn't be telling farmers in other states how to produce a product "that's already approved by the USDA or the FDA."

He also maintained the California requirement violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce issues.

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