San Joaquin Valley agricultural advocates are applauding a bill Gov. Schwarzenegger signed Wednesday requiring that out-of-state egg suppliers comply with a California law that sets minimum standards for the size of hen cages.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the new law levels the playing field for egg producers and will keep jobs in state.
"If we don't have AB 1437 saying all eggs need to meet with the same regulations, it would put our egg producers at a major disadvantage," said Wenger, a Modesto area nut grower. "This was an easy thing to equalize, and we're very appreciative the governor saw it as a fairness issue, too."
Wenger said in-state egg producers account for about 3,000 jobs. He said other states had been courting California egg producers, trying to coax them to areas where the regulations were more lax.
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Since the 2008 passage of Proposition 2, egg producers have been trying to meet standards that require hens have enough space to stand up, turn around and flap their wings without touching each other or the cage walls.
The new measure requires that all eggs imported to California come from farms complying with the Proposition 2 standards. Violators could face up to 180 days in jail or a $1,000 fine.
The governor called the bill he signed a positive step for California egg producers and animal welfare. It brought together opponents of Proposition 2, including Republican Assemblymen Tom Berryhill of Modesto and Bill Berryhill of Ceres.
The previous industry standard for hen cages was 67 square inches, or less than a letter-sized sheet of paper.
No minimum size yet
There is no standard size yet for how large the new cages must be, which has continued to frustrate the state's egg producers. But Modesto-based egg producer J.S. West just has finished building a $3.2 million hen barn in Livingston that it believes meets the new standards.
J.S. West Vice President Jill Benson said the signing of the out-of-state seller law made sense for the state's economy and farmers.
"This is a good sign that makes it seem likely that we're going to be able to stay in business and stay in California," she said.
Benson is also the vice president of the Association of California Egg Farmers. The group was neutral on Assembly Bill 1437.
She said with both measures set to take effect in 2015, egg producers still need clearer guidelines to clarify the Proposition 2 language.
"At the end of the day, we are still in need of clear standards not only for us to refurbish our barns and the rest of California egg farmers and now importers of eggs to follow," she said. "How do you know what is Prop. 2 compliant unless you define it? (The new law) goes a little ways, but we haven't gotten to home base by any means."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2284.