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Iowa Legislation Raises Egg-spectations for Conventional Growers

A dozen eggs from cage-free chickens typically cost at least a dollar more than conventional eggs. (mercyforanimals.org)
A dozen eggs from cage-free chickens typically cost at least a dollar more than conventional eggs. (mercyforanimals.org)
March 19, 2018

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Center for Food Safety and Mercy for Animals are calling on Iowa's governor to veto a controversial bill passed by the state Legislature that could make some retailers sell battery-caged eggs whether they want to or not.

The law could require grocery stores to sell conventional eggs from hens raised in battery cages if they also sell specialty eggs with labels such as "cage-free" and "free-range." Cody Carlson, staff attorney with Mercy for Animals, said he believes forcing private businesses to sell a specific product is unprecedented.

"For years, the factory-farm lobby has opposed any animal protection laws by saying, 'Well, the market should decide. We don't need laws. You know, consumers and retailers can decide this for themselves,’” Carlson said. “And now that the market is deciding, they no longer want the market to decide. The market is not deciding in their favor and so they don't like it anymore."

House File 2408 was approved 32-17 in the Iowa Senate, sending it to the governor for consideration. Supporters say consumers should have a low-cost choice for protein, and a dozen cage-free or free-range eggs can cost twice as much as conventional eggs from factory farms.

The legislation as written would apply to stores that participate in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC. WIC recipients are currently not allowed to purchase cage-free eggs. That means if big chains want to keep their promise to switch to carrying only cage-free eggs by 2025, they would need to withdraw from the WIC program, or also carry conventional eggs.

"And these are companies like McDonald's and Walmart and Dollar Tree. These are very cost-conscious companies,” Carlson said. “So they've just recognized that confining chickens in a cage where they can barely move for their entire lives is just not acceptable. It's not acceptable for the animals and it's not acceptable for consumers."

Five states ban or restrict battery cages, including California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan and Ohio. But Iowa is the leading producer of eggs in the country, and its caged-egg industry purchases massive amounts of the state's corn and soy commodities for feed.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - IA