RESTRAINING TRADE

The attorneys general for 13 states this week filed suit against Massachusetts over its ban on the sale of pork, eggs and veal produced from out-of-state animals raised in housing banned by the state.

The lawsuit claims an initiative approved by Massachusetts voters in November 2016 – and which is set to take effect in 2022 – violates the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to regulate commerce among states.

States can adopt laws and regulations that affect interstate commerce if they protect public health or safety, but the Massachusetts initiative doesn’t do either. It bans certain housing systems for food animals and, in effect, bans those systems for the other 49 states if they want to sell meat and eggs in the Bay State simply because some groups don’t like them.

A lawyer for one of those groups, the Humane Society of the United States – the driving force behind the ballot measure – predicts the suit will fail because the initiative is a “common-sense food safety” law, something that wasn’t claimed during the run-up to the vote. (Probably because there’s no evidence showing the housing of animals affects food produced from them. There is, however, evidence showing the housing systems “supported” by HSUS could jeopardize food safety.)

One thing we know the measure will do if it’s allowed to stand is raise the price of food in Massachusetts. Agricultural economics professor Jayson Lusk, of Oklahoma State University, found that a California ban on the sale of eggs from hens housed in so-called battery cages cost the state’s consumers as much as $1.08 more for a dozen eggs. Based on average U.S. per capita consumption of 21½ dozen per year, California consumers are spending more than $23 a person or $116 for a household of five more for eggs because of the ban.

That may not be a lot for the average Golden State household, but the same can’t be said for the poorest in the state.