Blog: Between extremes of states rights and federal power


Egg legislation points to the need for moderation, compromise in issues where interests conflict.

Defenders of democracy and the ability of voters to make good decisions usually aim for the center: the elusive midpoint between left and right, between hardcore liberals and extreme conservatives. While fringe groups grab headlines and talk show microphones, often with turbo-charged rhetoric, it seems to most of us that the work gets done in the middle.

The perils of extreme states' rights and potentially overzealous federal power are nowhere more visible than in egg politics these past few years in California and Congress. A January 26 Wall Street Journal article depicts the carnage to consumers and producers, and it is devastating.

California passed a law in 2008 requiring all egg producers bringing eggs to market in California to comply with California's onerous restrictions on the dwindling number of egg farmers left in the state. Not content to regulate what's farmed or produced within its borders, California demanded that any egg sold in the state conform to what's required to produce eggs in the state. The law takes effect this year.

Predictably, prices rose, supply shrank and egg farmers looked elsewhere. The lesson, hopefully, will be made clear by a federal court's ruling in a lawsuit brought by numerous states challenging California's overreach. What's the lesson? Interstate commerce allows a state a fair measure of control over activities within its borders but not to shut out commerce from the other 49 states.

At the same time, activists and egg producers ran to Congress with the idea that the only way to prevent California from serving as the model for the rest of the country was to federalize animal welfare standards for all egg production in the country. In other words, to do away entirely with any states' rights in such matters, which surely would have extended to other farm species. Congress rejected this bargain.

Moderation and compromise are not bad words in politics; in fact, they're what we should expect if we have more than one party operating in our state legislatures and Congress. Let's hope that egg producers and animal rights activists get a dose of moderation in coming days, hopefully aided by a commonsense federal court.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement. The views and opinions presented are those of the author.

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