Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has filed another lawsuit seeking to overturn California regulations regarding the sale of eggs.
We wish we could endorse Hawley’s decision. The possibility of endless egg-related puns comes close to justifying the cost of the litigation.
But not close enough. Hawley’s lawsuit, filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Missouri and 12 other states, is flawed and unnecessary and should be dropped.
The case is based on a California law regulating the treatment of hens. Under a law approved by the state’s voters, hens producing eggs for sale in the state must be given room to lie down, stand, turn and spread their wings.
Later, the California legislature decided to ban the sale of eggs from other states if their farmers failed to meet the standards. Hawley says that’s illegal.
His new court filing claims the tougher rules cost too much. “California has single-handedly increased the costs of egg production nationwide by hundreds of millions of dollars each year,” the lawsuit says.
The truth appears more complicated. The lawsuit says the California rules raise the cost of eggs 11.3 cents per dozen, at the most — about one penny per egg. If Missourians eat an average number of eggs, about 268 per year, they’re paying an extra $2.68 to meet the stricter standards.
We’d guess most Missourians would pay $2.68 more a year to eat eggs produced by hens raised in moderately humane conditions, not crammed into cages where turning around is impossible. But even that calculation may overstate the cost. Missouri producers could install larger cages at their own expense, without raising prices.
Or other production costs — feed, energy, construction — could come down enough to reduce the financial impact of the California law. There are many factors involved in the price of an egg.
And remember: Missouri egg producers don’t have to sell to Californians. Farmers here are quite free to stack their hens as they do now and sell the eggs here, or in states without the restrictions.
That decision might lead to a glut of eggs locally, further reducing prices at the market.
Perhaps realizing the thinness of the economic claims, Hawley criticizes the California rules on statutory and constitutional grounds. The regulations, he says, violate a law establishing federal standards for egg “quality, condition, weight, quantity, or grade.”
But California isn’t regulating eggs. It’s regulating the treatment of hens. And it treats all farmers the same, regardless of where they live, so it isn’t discriminatory.
That leaves the Missouri attorney general arguing the California rules violate the Constitution, which makes federal laws supreme. He, and the other states in the lawsuit, apparently want a national standard for the treatment of farm animals.
That’s the essence of big government, which Hawley purports to oppose.
This isn’t a partisan issue. Democrat Chris Koster filed a similar case, which a judge dismissed.
California’s citizens have not told Missouri how to produce eggs. They have told Missouri to meet a higher standard of animal care if they want to sell eggs in their state. It’s a reasonable decision, one the courts should support.