Jim Hartman: The chickens come home to roost

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman

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California is regularly on the cutting-edge of progressive political fashion in the United States.

The most recent example is the price of eggs, which reached a high of $7.50 a dozen at the end of December, as the Golden State’s cage-free chicken law came home to roost.

In 2018, California voters approved a ballot measure (Proposition 12) backed by the Humane Society banning the sale in the state of eggs that came from caged hens.

Proponents claimed the measure would “help family farmers and grow the California economy” and “protect our families from food poisoning.”

Instead, Prop 12 has raised egg prices for families while forcing California farmers and those that want to sell eggs in the state to spend millions of dollars retrofitting their barns.

Many California egg farmers have shut down while those in other states have decided the cost of complying with Prop 12 isn’t worth it. Supply shortages have hit the state and became worse as avian flu wiped out tens of millions of hens across the U.S.

While California’s average wholesale price for conventional white eggs has fallen to $4.25 a dozen in March, that’s still far more than the Midwest average of $2.48. Many retailers are selling eggs at a loss because they don’t want to create sticker-shock for customers.

In recent months, supermarkets have often run out of white conventional eggs, forcing customers to buy more expensive brown or organic eggs. This is a boon for organic farmers, but a financial hardship for lower-income households where eggs are an inexpensive source of protein.

Nevada joined seven additional states – Colorado, Utah, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – in mimicking California’s mandate of cage-free eggs.

AB 399, authored by Assemblyman Howard Watts (D-Las Vegas), passed the Nevada Senate (16-5) and Assembly (27-15) and was signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak in June 2021.

The legislation was promoted by the Humane Society and by two large out-of-state egg producers, Colorado’s Morning Fresh Farms and NuCal Foods of California.

It provides that a farm owner or operator would be required to go through a cage-free certification process with the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Creating a cage-free atmosphere is costly for farmers, who must include “enrichments such as scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing, cage-free housing which allows hens to exhibit their natural behaviors.”

Other requirements include using enclosures that are at least 1 square foot per hen and allow workers to stand upright in the space. The chickens must be free roaming within their space.

There’s just one problem. There are no commercial egg producers in Nevada, nor are any likely to set up businesses in the state.

Because it costs millions of dollars to convert to cage-free eggs, the Nevada Farm Bureau initially opposed AB 399.

However, the Humane Society agreed to remove from the bill all cage-free requirements for egg producers with 3,000 or fewer laying hens. Three thousand laying hens or less is commonly defined as a small producer.

With no commercial-size egg producers in Nevada, NFB was satisfied with just cutting the small producers out of the bill’s coverage.

The Nevada Restaurant Association questioned the timing of the action which will increase the cost of a food staple on an industry that was devastated by the pandemic.

The retail price of eggs skyrocketed in 2022. The Consumer Price Index data shows the average retail cost of a dozen eggs in U.S. cities was $1.72 in November 2021. That cost surged to a record-breaking $5.59 per dozen in November 2022.

Supply shortages and price spikes will expand as more states adopt cage-free laws. Since many farmers can’t afford to retrofit their barns to comply, government-mandated demand for cage-free eggs will likely outstrip supply in coming years.

Everyone will pay for progressive virtue-signaling.

E-mail Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@aol.com.


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