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California's New Egg Law

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Photo:John Loo/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Starting this January, the chickens that lay every egg sold in California will be raised with more space than before. But there's a flipside: A likely increase in egg prices and even a potential egg shortage.

Two new regulations took effect on January 1st that will have a big impact on both the availability of eggs in California, and California's large egg industry. The first law, called Proposition 2, requires the space allocated for every egg-laying chicken in California to be increased by nearly 70%. The other regulation, AB 1437, bans the sale of eggs from chickens in small "battery cages" in California altogether. Battery cages account for nearly 90% of the American egg supply, but have been linked to higher salmonella rates than the use of larger "colony cages," the habitats that contain "free-range" chickens.

Depending on who you speak to, the changeover means either economic struggle for poorer egg purchasers and egg farmers, or a healthier and more moral way of raising egg-laying chickens.

Ken Klippen, spokesman for the National Association of Egg Farmers, a trade group, told KCET that the two new laws could put smaller egg farmers out of business and are responsible for a large rise in the cost of eggs in California. He pointed out that the average statewide price for eggs in January 2014 was $2.34 and that it was at $2.77 right before Christmas as farmers prepared; Klippen added that an additional 35% increase in the price of eggs was likely after the two regulations took place in January.

"Even if all the farmers in California hurry to comply with the requirements, they still won't be meeting per capita needs," Klippen said. "There would be pretty severe shortages and it's a basic commodity. When you reduce supply and demand remains constant, you see increases in price." California is currently importing eggs from a limited number of farms out of state which comply with the new regulations

However, Proposition 2's sponsors at the Humane Society of the United States are excited about the new law taking effect. Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society's head, pointed out to KCET in a telephone interview that it got 64% of the vote when on the ballot in 2008. "A huge majority of voters in California want more humane treatment for animals," he added. Pacelle is headed to the Los Angeles area on January 5th to raise awareness of the new requirements and hold a press conference on the implementation of Proposition 2.

The mandatory sale of cage-free eggs in California is taking place at a time when consumer demand is increasingly encouraging large vendors to switch to the exclusive use of cage-free eggs. Following a petition aimed at Starbuck,s which went viral this autumn, Starbucks announced that they will use only cage-free eggs in the future.

While Proposition 2 also includes new requirements for the treatment of veal calves and pregnant pigs in agriculture, its main economic impact will be on the cost and availability of eggs.

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