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Iowa seeks to ensure lower-cost eggs are option for consumers

by Carolyn Orr ~ April 2018 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Iowa, the nation’s leading supplier of eggs, has become the latest U.S. state with a law that seeks to influence what consumers find on their local grocery shelves.
Unlike recent measures in states such as California and Massachusetts, though, Iowa’s HF 2408 reflects support in the state for the production and sale of conventional eggs from caged hens.
Signed into law in March, the bill requires that grocers sell these eggs if they also offer “specialty” eggs (such as cage-free or free-range) and if they participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
“Grocers like it because it provides an array of products to meet consumers’ demands,” Iowa Sen. Dan Zumbach says of HF 2408, which he helped carry through the state’s upper chamber. “Producers like it because it allows them to raise hens the best way they know how. It ensures that stores will be able to supply products that meet [WIC] requirements … and ensures taxpayers that their tax dollars are used efficiently.”
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not mandate the exact type of eggs that WIC recipients can buy, many states require the purchase of only conventional eggs in order to contain costs.
Rep. Bruce Bearinger was an early supporter of the bill, saying it was important that grocers continued to provide a low-cost source of high-quality protein to low-income consumers.
In Iowa, stores sell conventional, cage-raised eggs at about half the cost of cage-free eggs and one-third the cost of organic eggs. And while some of the world’s biggest food companies have pledged to switch to cage-free eggs, production currently outstrips demand for them.
Soon after HF 2408 became law, the Animal Welfare Institute issued a statement saying the measure “made animal cruelty the law of the land in Iowa” and violated “the freedom businesses traditionally have to determine which products they choose to sell.”
But Iowa isn’t the only state trying to legislate egg sales. In fact, recent laws in California and Massachusetts may have initiated HF 2408, and also are the focus of two multistate lawsuits.
In December, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota and nine other states asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a California law requiring that any eggs sold within its borders come from hens that have at least 116 square inches of space.
This compares to the industry standard of 67 square inches.
A previous lawsuit brought by states against California’s law was dismissed in 2016 by a federal appeals court, but in the December filings, the plaintiff states include economic analyses detailing the impact of these housing regulations on their consumers and farmers — for example, increasing the cost of eggs by 5 percent nationwide.
Also late last year, Indiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wisconsin and nine other states filed a lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court over a new Massachusetts law, which requires that only cage-free eggs be sold in the state by 2022.


Article written by Carolyn Orr, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.