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Alabama joins fight to challenge 'chicken law'

Alabama joined with 12 other states in a civil action against the states of California and Massachusetts alleging that laws regulating the housing of laying hens are unconstitutional.

Through Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office, Alabama joined 12 other states on December 5, 2017, in challenging a California law that requires hens in cages spend most of their day in spaces large enough so they can lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs.

Marshall joined in the lawsuit against Massachusetts on December 11, 2017, challenging that state's law barring the sale of eggs, pork and veal not housed according to new regulations.

The lawsuits were filed directly with the United States Supreme Court. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is leading the lawsuit against California, alleging the state's law costs consumers nationwide $350 million annually because of egg prices increasing after the law went into effect in 2015.

Alabama's inclusion in the lawsuit was heralded by the Alabama Farmers Federation in a press release issued last month.

We appreciate Attorney General Marshall's standing up for farmers and agriculture,” said ALFA President Jimmy Parnell. “Agriculture is our state's largest industry. Our poultry and livestock farmers care for their animals and work hard to provide families around the country and world safe, wholesome food. Other states should not be allowed to regulate Alabama farmers.”

In announcing that Alabama joined the lawsuits, Marshall said the attempts by California and Massachusetts to impose agricultural restrictions on Alabama farmers is unconstitutional.

States and their residents have the right to set their own standards for the production of agricultural goods, especially for reasons of health and safety,” Marshall said in a December 21, 2017, release. “However, they don't have the right to impose restrictions on how products from other states are raised, which is what California and Massachusetts have done.”

The lawsuit alleges the regulations violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress exclusive authority to regulate commerce among the states.

If allowed to go unchallenged, such unconstitutional regulations could adversely affect all forms of commerce between states. The citizens of Alabama should not have to live by the liberal edicts of California and Massachusetts. I have joined two separate lawsuits filed before the U.S. Supreme Court this month aimed at preventing California and Massachusetts from imposing their will on the rest of America,” Marshall added.

Alabama farmers say the regulations would be extremely costly because they would force farmers to change their housing systems. Production costs would also increase, and those costs would result in consumers paying more for eggs, pork and veal.

California's original law required only California farmers to comply. But the state's farmers argued they would be at a competitive disadvantage with farmers from other states, so the law was expanded to ban the sale of eggs within California from hens not raised in compliance with California's standards.

According to the Alabama Poultry Producers, poultry is Alabama's number two agricultural industry, trailing only forestry. Poultry has a $15 billion impact on the state's economy each year, and is responsible for 86,000 workers.

Alabama is the nation's second-leading broiler chicken producer, processing 21 million birds each week. Georgia processes 23 million weekly.

Approximately 50 billion eggs are produced in the United States annually.

A similar challenge to the California law was unsuccessful at the federal appellate level and ended at the Ninth Circuit of Appeals in 2016.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year whether to accept jurisdiction on the case.


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