September 20, 2014

Egg fight: Gov. Heineman vs. HSUS

A legal dispute over egg production restrictions has sparked more controversy between the governor and the Humane Society of the United States.

Gov. Dave Heineman has been a frequent and vocal critic of HSUS.

The latest salvo in the war comes in the form a federal lawsuit filed by Missouri in early February, objecting to regulations imposed on egg production by California. Nebraska has joined the lawsuit, along with Oklahoma, Alabama, Kentucky and Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa.

In 2008, HSUS succeeded in passing a ballot initiative to regulate the care of egg-laying hens in California. Two years later, the California legislature extended the regulation to all eggs sold in the state, effectively imposing the regulations on any state wishing to sell eggs in California.

The lawsuit contends the law violates Constitutional provisions allowing free commerce among the states.

Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning announced Nebraska would join the lawsuit at the beginning of the Governor’s Ag Conference being held in Kearney this week.

Asked by a reporter if he would meet with HSUS, Heineman dismissed the suggestion.

“Let me just say that the folks at HSUS don’t regularly contact me,” Heineman stated. “I think the last contact I had with them, they wanted to have a meeting and I told them, well I will meet with you if you come to the meeting and tell me you’re never coming back to Nebraska.”

Heineman said he sees no benefit from such a meeting.

“There’s absolutely no reason for me to meet with HSUS given their policies and what they stand for.”

HSUS Agriculture Director Joe Maxwell, in an interview with Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX, claimed Nebraska shouldn’t complain that California requires other states to meet its standards to sell eggs in the state.

“I would expect that the governor and the Attorney General there should look at their own laws and look at which ones those in place that protect their own producers before they go out and make those broad statements,” Maxwell said.

In a separate news release, HSUS asserted the right of states to regulate agriculture. HSUS stated in the news release California has a right under the Constitution to regulate or eliminate “an unsafe and inhumane products from its local market, regardless of the product’s place of origin.”

HSUS charged that most the states in the lawsuit have laws on their books that regulate agricultural products coming in from other states, though it didn’t list any from Nebraska.

Maxwell said he sees nothing wrong with California requiring eggs sold in the state meet requirements of that 2008 ballot initiative.

“I believe very strongly in states having the ability and a sovereign right to regulate to some degree their industry,” Maxwell stated. “In this case, the evidence is clear that chickens in barren battery cages for which California has outlawed have a greater propensity to have salmonella and the state of California should have the right as it sees fit to protect its citizens.”

A group, We Support Agriculture, formed in Nebraska last year to oppose any potential ballot initiatives by HSUS in Nebraska.

Jerry Oster, WNAX, contributed to this story.