The U.S. District Court's recent decision to dismiss a Southern California egg farmer's federal lawsuit challenging the validity of Proposition 2 in governing egg-laying hen enclosures only adds to the confusion of California's egg farmers as to how to confine their hens in order to comply with the law when it takes effect on January 1, 2015.
"We are less than 30 months from implementation yet we still have no clear understanding for how much space to provide our hens and what type of housing systems will be considered legal. Given the risk of criminal prosecution for violating Proposition 2, we are very disappointed our motion to intervene was never addressed and that in dismissing the case, the judge provided no real clarity as to what egg farmers must do to comply with the law," says Arnie Riebli, president of the Association of California Egg Farmers (ACEF). He adds, "As it stands now, consumers need to realize that the availability of safe, fresh California eggs they have come to expect may no longer exist in the very near future."
Time has become a major issue for California egg farmers who need to know the size and density requirements for the enclosures they must build now prior to the law's compliance date of January 1, 2015. The lack of clarity regarding hen enclosure standards has become dire because it will require an investment of $400 million from the state's egg farmers and an estimated three years to construct new facilities in California.
"While ACEF appreciates that the Court confirmed our understanding that Proposition 2 does not require California egg farms to be cage-free, this ruling failed to address some of the key ambiguities in the new law which would have informed egg farmers once and for all the size and density of housing system that will avoid prosecution," said Dale Stern, attorney for ACEF. He adds, "Egg farmers cannot afford to wait any longer to begin construction on new hen enclosures. But their dilemma is whether to make a multi-million dollar investment in new housing systems that may not meet the law."
ACEF supports the goal of providing appropriate space to egg laying hens. In fact, ACEF joined with the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP) to support Senator Dianne Feinstein's Egg Products Inspection Act amendments which would establish preemptive national standards on egg laying hen enclosures, including dimensions and other key elements that are not found in Proposition 2.
ACEF also joined HSUS and UEP in supporting the House counterpart, HR 3798, which is co-sponsored by California Representatives Jeff Denham (R), Elton Gallegly (R), and Sam Farr (D). Unfortunately, it was not included in the proposed Farm Bill and it is unclear if either of the bills will be taken up in the remaining session of Congress. ACEF has committed to work toward a national standard for egg laying hen enclosures, but this may take years to achieve. Given the lack of clarity, California egg farmers had no option but to seek to invalidate Proposition 2 with their motion to intervene in the lawsuit that was just rejected.