Legislation agreed in California 9 years ago, designed to promote bird welfare, is being challenged by 13 US states.
The states have filed a motion to ask the Supreme Court to block a law requiring any eggs sold in the state to come from hens that have space to stretch in their cages.
The lawsuit alleges that California’s requirements violate the US Constitution’s interstate commercial clause and are pre-empted by federal law.
It is being led by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley and the lawsuit includes new information estimating California’s egg law has cost consumers nationwide up to US$350m annually as a result of higher egg prices since it came into force in 2015.
A California voter approved ballot in 2008 requires hens in cages to spend most of their day in spaces large enough that they can lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs.
When the state’s egg farmers raised fears that this would place them at a competitive disadvantage, state legislators expanded the law to bar the sale of eggs from hens that weren’t raised in compliance with California’s standards.
It is the second legal challenge and follows a federal appeals court panel rejection of a similar argument in a separate lawsuit by 6 states last year.
Among the states taking part are Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.
The legal action comes at a time when animal rights activists are pushing the state’s egg farmers to require the birds to be kept cage-free. They have launched a petition drive to try to get 365,880 signatures needed to have the measure placed on the statewide ballot in November 2018.