California trying to nix consumer choice

Bill Northey Iowa agriculture secretary
Bill Northey Iowa agriculture secretary

I read with interest The Gazette’s recent “Eggs-acting demands” editorial that did a great job outlining the ongoing dispute between the state of California and the nation’s egg producers. As the editorial correctly pointed out, Iowa has a huge stake in this interstate trade war as we lead the nation in egg production and provide 30 percent of all the eggs imported to California.

The legislation passed by the California legislature would limit consumer choice and have a powerful negative impact on Iowa egg farmers who want to export their eggs to this important market.

Eggs that meet the California standards are already available — customers can go to the store and buy them right now and no one wants to take that choice away. We need to let the market work and provide customers with choices at the grocery store.

Unfortunately, the anti-agriculture activists who have been pushing these measures in California and other states are trying to take these choices away.

Eggs that meet California’s standards are more expensive for consumers to buy because they are more expensive to produce. Even supporters of the California standards recognize that their producers would be at a significant disadvantage and that is what made the legislation necessary. So, in order to try and protect California egg farmers from losing customers who choose safe eggs produced from hens in conventional cages, they are trying to limit competition from eggs produced safely and legally in other states.

The result of the California egg regulations is that consumers will be forced to purchase the more expensive eggs whether they want to or not. This is bad for consumers and places significant burdens on egg farmers in Iowa and other states.

The other concern is that the California legislation is almost certainly just the first of many potential interstate trade disagreements that will inevitably increase the prices paid by all consumers. If it starts with eggs, you can be sure it won’t end with eggs.

To make the point, let’s consider an example that puts the shoe on the other foot. Suppose Iowa’s growing wine industry pushed legislation requiring that wines sold in Iowa come from grape plants that experience a hard freeze in the winter, like those grown in Iowa. Wineries in Napa Valley would be concerned and rightly so.

Federal regulations creating a level playing field are the wisest solution as it prevents different standards from being established in each of the states and ensures free movement of safe agricultural products. That is what exists right now. In the egg industry, all eggs are subject to federal regulation and must be safely produced or they cannot enter interstate commerce.

Any additional standards should be set through a market-driven approach where producers work with their customers to meet their needs.

I am a firm believer that farmers know best how to care for their animals and that customers deserve choices at the grocery store. Limiting access to safe and wholesome food based on legislation pushed by activists in California is a real risk to Iowa agriculture and limits the choices available to consumers that are just trying to feed their families.

• Bill Northey, a fourth-generation corn and soybean farmer from Spirit Lake, is serving his second term as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. Comments: Dustin.VandeHoef@Iowaagriculture.gov

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