Politics & Government

California bill to close loophole in eggs from cage-free hens legislation

California voters freed the state's egg-laying hens last fall, but Proposition 2 left a big loophole: Supermarkets could still sell eggs laid by caged birds in other states.

Now, animal-welfare advocates are backing legislation requiring every egg sold in California to be from a cage-free hen.

Assembly Bill 1437 would greatly expand the scope of the state's ban on standard egg-laying cages, which is scheduled to take effect in 2015.

Economists predict Proposition 2, on its own, will drive up imports of cheap, conventionally produced eggs, pushing many in-state farms out of business.

If AB 1437 passes, though, it would make the entire California market – about 10 percent of the nation's eggs – cage-free. That huge demand, backers hope, would support California farms as they convert to cage-free production and drive some big egg farms elsewhere in the country to scrap their cages as well.

California now buys about a third of its eggs from other states.

The Humane Society of the United States, the force behind Proposition 2, says it hopes the California egg industry remains viable so that other states won't see a switch to cage-free hens as an industry-killer.

"This is an effort that we fully intend to extend to the rest of the country," said Jennifer Fearing, the group's chief economist.

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