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  • Debbie Noda / Modesto Bee

    FOOD SAFETY

    The Food and Drug Administration would handle high-risk recalls suspend most routine safety inspections. Federal meat inspections would be expected to proceed as usual.

  • State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, represents the 14th District.

  • Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, represents the 6th District.

Viewpoints: Federal legislation would undermine state egg law

Published: Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 - 8:23 am

In November 2008, California voters were presented with Proposition 2, which proposed minimum animal welfare and public health and safety standards for egg-laying hens. This initiative pitted much of the agricultural community against a coalition of animal rights and consumer groups led by the Humane Society of the United States in a hard-fought campaign. Prop. 2 passed by an overwhelming vote of 63.5 percent.

The intent of Prop. 2 was to enact a minimum standard that all egg-laying hens be housed in cages that at least allow enough room for them to spread their wings. In addition to its animal welfare goal, Prop. 2 was intended to protect the health and safety of California consumers since studies had shown that confining hens in small, cramped cages could significantly increase the risk of salmonella contamination.

Following the passage of this initiative, egg farmers from our districts approached us with their concerns that complying with these new standards – which technically applied only to eggs "produced" in California – could have the effect of putting them out of business if out-of-state producers were free to sell non-compliant eggs to California consumers. In discussions with the Humane Society, we heard similar concerns that allowing out-of-state producers to corner the California market with non-compliant eggs would undermine the clear intent of California voters who believed they were enacting Prop. 2 as a uniform standard.

Amazingly, we found a rare consensus between egg farmers and the nation's leading animal rights organization. They came together in support of Assembly Bill 1437, a bipartisan bill which we jointly introduced to clarify that Prop. 2 standards apply to all eggs sold in California. In addition to leveling the playing field and keeping California egg farmers in business, AB 1437 ensured that the Prop. 2 standards would be applied uniformly as California voters clearly intended.

This win-win bill passed the Legislature overwhelmingly and was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010. It was supported by a broad coalition of agricultural, animal rights, business and other groups. While its provisions do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, already it is helping the California economy: Our egg farmers are investing millions in Prop. 2-compliant enclosures knowing that they will be competing on a level playing field with out-of-state producers.

However, some members of Congress do not like the idea of states setting their own agricultural standards. They think a one-size-fits-all approach is the best answer to how agricultural products are produced, distributed and sold in the United States. Federal legislation has been proposed that will nullify AB 1437, along with many similar state food quality and safety standards across the country. This legislation, in the form of an amendment to the federal farm bill and authored by U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, would effectively eliminate California's ability to set its own production, food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards.

It is indeed ironic that as California is raising health and safety standards for eggs sold in the state, King's own state was the source of the largest safety recall of eggs in American history, when in 2010 more than 500 million eggs produced in Iowa and shipped to California and other states were recalled after hundreds of consumers became ill after consuming these eggs. King may accept lax standards and food safety recalls for his state, but who is he to say that California and other states cannot go further in protecting the public's health?

We join with the Association of California Egg Farmers in opposing this federal intervention that would undermine the carefully constructed compromise between egg farmers and animal rights advocates, who worked together on a solution that won broad bipartisan support.

If the King amendment passes, California's egg farmers would end up at a competitive disadvantage with out-of-state eggs sold here. Instead, we support a more reasonable alternative that has been authored by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her bill, the Egg Products Inspection Act of 2012, would establish a national standard for egg-laying hens that would mirror Prop. 2's standards. It is a narrowly tailored approach written for one industry to address a specific challenge – not a hammer strike on all state laws affecting agricultural products with no concern for the consequences.

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