New state law upends, egg industry, affecting supplies and cost
Ten days before a groundbreaking animal welfare law takes effect in California, the price of conventional, “caged” chicken eggs has climbed so high that Sonoma County shoppers can pay less for cage-free brands.
Proposition 2, the animal welfare ballot proposition passed by voters in 2008, is just one of several factors responsible for the record price of conventional eggs around the country, experts said. But the initiative is largely credited for reshaping the nation’s egg industry and for prompting high-stakes legal battles and regulatory debates that continue to this day.
The law, which effectively banned standard “battery cages,” takes effect Jan. 1.
In Santa Rosa, shoppers last week could buy Uncle Eddie’s large, cage-free eggs for $2.69 a dozen at Oliver’s Market on Stony Point Road. That was $1 cheaper than for the same size of conventional eggs sold under the store’s own brand.
At G and G Supermarket on West College Avenue, Clover Stornetta’s cage-free eggs were selling for 30 cents cheaper than conventional eggs from Petaluma Farms. And at Safeway on Fourth Street, shoppers needed to pay only 10 cents more for Clover’s organic, cage-free eggs than for the Lucerne brand conventional eggs.
Cage-free and organic eggs normally garner a significant price premium over conventional eggs, experts said. But wholesale prices for conventional eggs in California and Nevada have jumped 79 percent in the past month to a record $2.66 a dozen, according to Urner Barry, a Bayville, N.J., publisher that tracks eggs and other food products.
The price increases, similar to those occurring nationwide, are blamed on such factors as increased domestic consumption and banner exports to Canada and Mexico. But Proposition 2 also “definitely is playing a role,” said Brian Moscogiuri, an egg market reporter with Urner Barry.
Prices here may stay higher in the first part of 2015 until out-of-state producers complete new facilities and increase supply to the Golden State.
On Jan. 1, Moscogiuri said, “California may not have all the eggs that it needs.”
Besides any shortages, prices may rise simply because of the multi-million dollar investments that state farmers have made to switch to larger cages or cage-free warehouse systems, observers said. All the new systems house fewer birds than the old cages did in the same space.
“It will cost the farmers money and those costs will be passed on to the consumer,” said Michael Moody, the natural products buyer for Santa Rosa- based Oliver’s Markets.
The company’s three markets last week featured signs telling shoppers that the price of conventional eggs “is increasing due to costs involved with our local farmers having to comply” with Proposition 2.
In November 2008, California voters overwhelming approved the initiative. The lopsided, 63-percent “yes” vote followed a statewide campaign that pitted egg farmers against the proposition’s sponsor, the Humane Society of the United States.
The farmers sued but failed to overturn the law. They later failed to get Congress to pass national standards for confining laying hens — a joint effort of egg trade groups and the Humane Society.