Cartel of Eggs

By on February 4, 2009 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Not surprisingly, we are seeing more evidence of the factory farming industry’s counter-maneuvers to Proposition 2—the California ballot measure approved in a landslide vote in November that stops the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal, and breeding pigs in small cages and crates.

Yesterday, Kyle Arnold reported in the Tulsa World that some Oklahoma state lawmakers, at the urging of the state Farm Bureau, are scheming to gut the ballot initiative process by pushing through a proposal to forbid voters from setting any rules restricting the manner in which farm animals are raised. They want to bar voters from initiating any future efforts to halt cruel confinement, to block efforts to curb manure dumping by factory farms, and to protect against efforts to stop the rampant overuse of antibiotics fed to animals on factory farms–which has been condemned by public health groups because it leads to the development of strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Under their scheme, only the state legislature—not voters at the state or local level—could restrict the activities of factory farms. The Farm Bureau has probably been worried about an Oklahoma State University poll released in 2007 that showed American consumers very supportive of efforts to stop the inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms.

Cockfighting enthusiasts and their legislative allies tried this sort of power grab a few years ago, after we supported a ballot initiative there to stop that barbaric practice. The anti-cockfighting initiative passed, and voters rejected the effort to take away their voting rights. But this will be a tougher fight, even though no initiative to improve farming practices is underway.

Brown eggs in carton
© SXC/Dixidito

And earlier this week, Karin Klein, an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times, took aim at Prop 2 in the paper's opinion blog, arguing that consumers were wrong to institute a policy that will hike the cost of eggs by barring the confinement of the animals in tiny cages.

Pity that Klein apparently has no clue about the egg industry’s rampant price-fixing that’s come to light. Between August 2007 and March 2008 egg prices rose by 45 percent—rates faster than have been seen in 30 years. The egg industry hatched the scheme to gouge consumers and deliver record profits long before Prop 2 was in motion.

The HSUS sniffed out the scheme and the federal Department of Justice launched a criminal price-fixing investigation. This antitrust story has been reported by The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and the Minneapolis Star Tribune in just the last few months.

On the heels of these reports, a remarkable 20 federal class action price-fixing cases were filed against the egg industry. The cases have been consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (In Re: Processed Egg Products Antitrust Litigation).

Just days before the Feb. 2 Los Angeles Times piece argued for the need to keep hens in small cages, the plaintiffs filed their consolidated amended class action complaint—a 144-page treatise outlining egg producers’ scheme to drive egg prices to record highs under the guise of sham “animal welfare” guidelines. The guidelines were used by the industry to deceive consumers about the quality of care given to egg-laying hens, and restrict output in order to squeeze more profits out of ordinary Americans.

The class action complaint is chock-full of defendants’ own statements about their participation in a massive undertaking to drive egg prices up and bilk consumers in the process.

So let’s be clear about the problem: It is not The HSUS and other reformers who want to promote humane treatment of animals—nor millions of citizens who agree. Rather, it’s an industry that wants to strip away voters’ rights and then slam them with higher prices in the marketplace through anti-competitive price-fixing.

Farm Animals

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