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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Jail for Caging a Hen? Egg Farmer Asks

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A farmer challenged the constitutionality of a state law that threatens egg farmers with jail if they cage a hen so as to prevent her from "lying down, standing up, and fully extending ... her limbs" and "turning around freely."

William Cramer, an egg farmer in Riverside County, claims the law could shut down farms, force egg producers out of state and cause price increases and egg shortages.

California voters approved Proposition 2 in November 2008. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act will become effective in January 2015. Cramer says in his federal complaint that the law threatens egg farmers with up to 180 days in jail for violations.

He claims that the law, part of the California Health and Safety Code, is unconstitutionally vague and violates the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"Because of the vagueness of Prop 2, California egg farmers lack sufficient notice of how to avoid violating the statute," the complaint states. "Fearing arbitrary prosecutions and the potential for imprisonment, farmers will shut down their egg farms in California before January 1, 2015. Some farmers will exit the egg business altogether while others will move out of state. The uncertainty caused by Prop 2 is already shrinking the investment in new facilities and new egg farms in California. As flocks of egg-laying hens mature, egg farms in California will close. The fair market value of egg farms has been reduced."

California is America's fifth-largest egg producer. It produces 5 billion eggs a year, supplying roughly 6 percent of the nation's eggs, and provides jobs for nearly 4,000 people, Cramer claims.

"Over 90 percent of the eggs produced in the United States come from hens housed in modern cage systems. Plaintiff is informed and believes that the proponents of Prop. 2 would contend that modern cage systems, such as the ones used on plaintiffs farms, are too small and do not comply with Prop. 2," the complaint states.(15)

"Less than 10 percent of the eggs produced in the United States come from farms with so-called cage-free systems.

"It is more expensive to operate farms with cage-free systems. As a result, cage-free eggs are more expensive than eggs produced on farms with modern cage systems."

Proposed federal regulations specify acceptable cage sizes for farmers "calculated by dividing total floor space by total number of egg-laying hens," and would render Prop. 2 moot, Cramer claims.

"Additionally, Prop. 2 unduly burdens interstate commerce while providing minimal or no local benefits and, therefore, it violates the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution," the complaint states.

Cramer is represented by Bruce Wessel with Irell & Manella. He seeks an injunction against Prop. 2, barring its enforcement.

Named as defendants are Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Brown's office did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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