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John Block: Egg Regulations

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Maybe the “chickens are coming home to roost” in California. The state of California can’t think of enough new regulations. In 2015, California passed legislation demanding that those who sell eggs in the state must adhere to their cage-size law. Midwest states such as Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska are crying foul. We are supposed to have free trade between states.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is scheduled to announce a new law suit against California egg regulations. He wants the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and rule the California regulations unconstitutional. He said, “this discrimination against Missouri farmers will not stand.”

The law’s mandate of cage size per chicken did not affect the welfare of any animals in California. Its sole purpose and effect is to discriminate against non-California egg producers by increasing the regulatory burden.

Enforcement of the California law would be a burden on all consumers. The Economic Policy Analysis and Research Center estimates the added cost to consumers to be between $227 million and $912 million. The added cost of eggs will be disproportionately born by low income families. Egg prices have been distorted across the country since the California regulations were imposed.

Eleven other states have joined Missouri in challenging California. I can just imagine all the possible regulations that states could impose in order to shut out competition from other states. The next step might be that all chickens be free range. Why not outlaw crates in hog production?  Maybe litters would have to be farrowed in the field like I did in the 1970’s. We had more than 500 litters born outside in the woods. We had to finally bring them in to the barn because the foxes were stealing my baby pigs.

If the federal government decides that we should adhere to some common standard, we can consider that. However, we can not allow individual states to write the rules.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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