There’s an interesting feud brewing between California and Arkansas that has broad implications for a whole range of laws and state actions (and inactions) across the nation.
This particular brouhaha centers on a decision by the California State Legislature in 2010 to extend a law requiring the relatively humane treatment of chickens to states from which California would be permitted to import eggs. The law in question was passed by votes in 2008. It requires that chickens whose eggs are to be harvested for import to California “be able to stand up, turn around and fully extend their wings.” By way of retaliation, the Arkansas State House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill banning imported wine from California, an action I suspect will have a much broader negative impact on Arkansas wine drinkers than it will on California growers and bottlers.
This little tempest in a henhouse is a small instance of a much larger problem. In reacting to this proposed retaliation, one Arkansas lawmaker asked rhetorically, “Is it chickens tomorrow or cattle on down the road? Is it air quality restrictions?” It was that last one that caught my eye.
I’ve long wondered why states are allowed to set their own standards for air and water quality. Last I checked, air didn’t recognize or stop at state lines. Rivers that course through more than one state provide another example where a state’s actions or inactions could severely harm the rights of those in other states downriver or downwind.
I applaud the California law’s efforts to bring humane treatment to egg-laying chickens. At the same time, I’m not sure it’s within our right to tell another state how to treat animals whose flesh or products might find their way into our state. California might be justified in demanding clear labeling to inform California buyers of the maltreatment (by California standards), but I’m not sure a ban is legal or appropriate.
But I also don’t think it’s appropriate for states to set their own rules and regulations governing the quality of air and water that isn’t confined to their borders.
As I see it, this is yet another place where the right outcome is for the federal government to intervene and impose some basic principles of interstate commerce (which, as I recall, is the Feds’ province) so that all states are required to take into consideration the needs of the citizens of other states. Otherwise, a mishmash of state rules inevitably leads to feuds, trade wars and other unseemliness.