The Norman Transcript

March 27, 2014

Why defend abusive farming practice?

By Bruce Friedrich
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has decided to involve the Sooner state in a lawsuit that defends 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 life-long care to farm animals who have come from a variety of systems. Battery cage hens show all the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a predictable result of the damage done by life-long 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 Missouri Attorney General and Gubernatorial hopeful Chris Koster, who challenged the law last month, 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 advantages 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, and now Pruitt has joined my home state of Oklahoma to Missouri’s frivolous legal challenge, defending cruelty to animals and fighting in favor of federal over state autonomy on issues as basic as agricultural regulation and cruelty to animals — traditional state concerns.

And not only are Koster and Pruitt defending the cruelest imaginable treatment of farm animals and flagrantly violating conservative states’ rights principles, but they are using a legal theory that has failed repeatedly, including in the very circuit that will hear his challenge.

This past August, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on a challenge to a law that is almost identical in form to the one Koster and Pruitt are 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 Pruitt’s, the 9th Circuit stated that when 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 the claim that the ban on the sale of battery eggs (from anywhere) somehow advantages California producers — a theory that Missouri’s Koster claimed, inaccurately, has not been tried.

Oklahoma is not a top 10 egg producer; if Pruitt’s and Koster’s legal 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 this theory is sure to fail, and so Pruitt should drop his plan to spend taxpayer money tilting at this particular windmill, both for animals and for Oklahoma’s taxpayers.

Bruce Friedrich is senior policy director for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization. He grew up in Norman, graduating from Norman High in 1987.

Breaking news, severe weather alerts, AMBER alerts, sports scores from The Norman Transcript are available as text messages right to your phone or mobile device. You decide which type of alerts you want to receive. Find out more or to signup, click here.