Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why would Koster defend abusive factory farming practice?

The A.G. of Missouri (who intends to run for governor) announced last month that he plans to sue to overturn California’s ban on the sale of eggs from hens raised in battery cages. I have the lead opinion piece in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, discussing that possibility. I thought it might interest you. Feel free to share, etc.  Cheers, Bruce http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/columns/why-would-koster-defend-abusive-factory-farming-practice/article_d65c6d7d-6980-5822-8d50-3d08006ace61.html Why would Koster defend abusive factory farming practice? by Bruce Friedrich Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster intends to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to defend the worst abuse of animals known to industrial farming, despite the fact that he is almost certain to lose. Some background: In 2010, California’s Legislature passed a law that prohibits the sale of eggs from hens confined in barren battery cages. Battery cages are small wire cages where the vast majority of laying hens in the United States spend their entire lives; each cage confines four to seven hens, and each hen has no more than 76 square inches of space, which is about 20 percent less than a standard sheet of printer paper. Battery cages are so abusive of animals that they have been outlawed across the European Union and condemned by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which included former Kansas Gov. John Carlin and former Secretary of Agriculture and House Agriculture Committee Chair Dan Glickman. Physically, the animals’ muscles and bones waste away from lack of use. Some birds’ skeletal systems become so weak that their spinal cords deteriorate and they become paralyzed in the cages, an outcome so common that the industry has a term for it, “cage fatigue.” Mentally, the animals are destroyed as well. At my organization, we provide lifelong care to farm animals who have come from a variety of systems; the battery cage hens show all the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, a predictable result of the damage done by lifelong confinement. So California citizens banned these horribly cruel production systems for use in California, with more votes than any other ballot initiative in California history. And California’s Legislature did the will of its citizens by banning the sale of eggs from hens who are similarly confined. Enter Chris Koster, who told the Missouri Farm Bureau that he plans to challenge the latter law, saving the egg industry as much as $20 million, according to the agricultural journal Feedstuffs. Koster told the Farm Bureau that his problem with the law is that it gives an advantage to California producers, thus running afoul of the Constitution’s commerce clause. He also claimed that “no one has attempted a case quite like this before.” But he’s wrong on both counts. Not only is Koster defending the cruelest imaginable treatment of farm animals, but he is using a legal theory that has failed repeatedly, including in the very circuit that will hear his challenge. In August, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a challenge to a law that is almost identical in form to the one Koster is challenging, but instead of banning an egg production system, it bans both the production and sale of force-fed duck liver. In response to a challenge from the pâté industry in New York and Canada that makes an argument identical to Koster’s, the 9th Circuit stated that where a state bans the same procedure for in-state and out-of-state production, “it is not discriminatory.” This is a precise and complete retort to Koster’s claim that the ban on the sale of battery eggs (from anywhere) somehow gives an advantage to California producers — a theory that he claims, inaccurately, has not been tried. Missouri is not a top 10 egg producer; if Koster’s theory had an inkling of validity, someone with more invested in the issue would have filed a suit long ago. After all, the law passed almost four years ago and takes effect in less than a year. But his theory is sure to fail, and so he should drop his plan to tilt at this particular windmill, both for animals and for Missouri’s taxpayers. Bruce Friedrich is senior policy for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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