Over the last few years, Missouri agriculture seems to have had more than its share of attention from animal activist group HSUS. After a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit brought forth by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and attorney generals from four other states against California's AB1437 legislation, HSUS responded last week with a press release claiming AG Koster exceeded the amount of taxpayer dollars he promised to spend on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes back to the original ballot initiative, Proposition 2, passed by California voters in 2008, which requires, among other things, California egg producers to comply with regulations concerning the size of the enclosures housing egg-laying hens starting in 2015. Many know it as the "egg bill." In 2010, the California State Assembly passed legislation AB1437, extending these requirements to all producers selling eggs in California – including Missouri producers.
In response, Koster and four other state attorney generals filed suit in February. The lawsuit, while dismissed by Federal District Judge Kimberly Mueller earlier this month, has, according to allegations made by HSUS, cost over $80,000 in Missouri taxpayer money, at least $70,000 over Koster's promise of spending no more than $10,000.
However, according to the Attorney General's office, this $10,000 estimate was not related to the total cost of the lawsuit. "The earlier ($10,000) estimate was related to the anticipated cost of obtaining a temporary restraining order," said Nanci Gonder, press secretary at the Attorney General's office. "The actual costs incurred were to develop evidence for a full hearing on a preliminary injunction, which involved expert testimony."
Impact on Missouri ag
Federal Judge Mueller ruled the lawsuit was not brought on behalf of the general population of each state, but rather on behalf of a group of each state’s egg farmers.
However, according to a statement Koster made in February, almost one-third of the eggs produced in Missouri are sold in California – approximately 540 million of the 1.7 billion eggs Missouri's seven million egg-laying hens produce each year. "The California legislation affects all Missouri egg farmers by requiring them to make costly capital improvements in order to comply, which will in turn drive up the ultimate cost consumers pay at their local grocery stores," said Gonder.
According to Koster's statement, if Missouri egg producers comply with the California law, they face an estimated $120 million in capital improvements costs, plus a 20% increase in ongoing production costs. If they choose to stop selling eggs in California, Missouri egg producers will face a surplus of a half billion eggs, which could depress prices in Missouri and force some Missouri farmers out of business.
The issue, Koster said, was the whether officials in one state can regulate the practices of farmers in another, who have had no say in electing those officials. "California has placed restrictions on the sale or transfer of a commodity based on production methods that have nothing to do with the health or safety of California consumers," Koster said in February. "If California legislators are permitted to mandate the size of chicken coops on Missouri farms, they may just as easily demand that Missouri soybeans be harvested by hand or that Missouri corn be transported by solar-powered trucks."