One surprising organization isn’t standing in Pacelle’s way: United Egg Producers, U.S. egg farmers’ largest lobby. Its senior vice president, Chad Gregory, did not respond to a request for comment.
Spooked by the 2008 California law, the trade group opted in July 2011 to work with the Humane Society of the United States instead of fighting it. United Egg Producers was outspent and outmaneuvered in the California ballot fight, and ultimately threw in the towel.
In addition to standards for egg-laying hens, some of the ballot measures championed by the Humane Society of the United States in recent years also targeted production methods used by pork and veal farmers. One, in 2002, added pregnant pigs to the state constitution of Florida as a protected class. Others outlawed tethers and crates that veal farmers use to manage their herds.
So the egg industry’s alliance with its former mortal enemy initially drew catcalls from its peers who raise pigs and cattle instead of chickens.
The National Pork Producers Council, for one, is siding with Rep. King. Spokesman Dave Warner told TheDC in an email Monday that his organization applauded the congressman “for keeping bad state law from becoming bad federal law.”
In a telephone interview, Kristina Butts, the executive director of legislative affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, also said the California law “should be re-evaluated, along with the  law that requires action from other states.”
Butts told TheDC that the 230,000 cattle breeders, producers and feeders she represents “would like California to fix this problem at the state level, instead of making it a federal government question.”
With Steve King’s amendment part of the farm bill, Pacelle is preparing to fight a new battle when the legislation reaches the House floor. An amendment proposed by Oregon Democratic Rep Kurt Schrader would take California’s pending new egg standards and nationalize them. Costs, estimated in the billions of dollars nationally, would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher egg prices.
Although the long-browbeaten egg lobbyists are now working with the animal rights lobby and will support Schrader’s amendment, King isn’t worried.
“You know in their hearts they [egg farmers] agree with me,” he told TheDC. “If United Egg [Producers] is going to go out there and lobby for a Schrader amendment, their enthusiasm will be the equivalent of sending a poodle to a coon hunt.”
Warner warned TheDC that if Rep. King’s provision is stripped from the farm bill, the Humane Society of the United States would be able “to push through its ‘federal farm takeover bill” — meaning Schrader’s amendment.
“That legislation [Schrader's] sets a dangerous precedent for allowing federal bureaucrats to tell America’s farmers how to raise and care for their animals,” Warner added. “And without King’s amendment, one state can tell the other 49 how to produce everything from pork to ethanol.”
And even if Schrader’s amendment should survive, King told TheDC, “that’s just eggs. If [Pacelle] is successful and gets a federal standard for cages for hens, that’s still — my language wipes out everything they’ve done with pork and veal.”