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House plays chicken with farm bill

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Jeff Denham (R-Fresno) is trying to protect the state's egg producers in a House agriculture bill.

The House of Representatives is debating a farm bill this week. One portion of that $940 billion measure could scramble California's egg industry. The fight is both about state's rights and hens' quality of life. 

California's Proposition 2, passed in 2008, requires hens to have enough room in their cages to stand up and spread their wings. But an amendment to the House farm bill by Iowa Republican Steve King would put a crimp in that law.

California would still be able to regulate egg farming here, but not forbid the sale of eggs from states that do not have rules on more humane cages. King calls it trade protectionism.

The battle isn't the traditional party line fight between Democrats and Republicans. Last year, a similar fight over last year's farm bill in the Senate had Democrat Dianne Feinstein defending California's law. This year, it's Fresno Republican Congressman Jeff Denham. Both cite an agreement between the Humane Society and the United  Egg Producers — which represents 90 percent of America's egg producers — to phase in larger cages over 15 years.

Denham has introduced an amendment to protect California's interests. The Rules Committee is meeting this evening to decide which amendments will be allowed to get a floor vote. 

The Senate approved its version of the farm bill without the larger cage agreement. If Denham's amendment is allowed, and if it passes, it could become part of the larger farm bill in conference committee. But that's a big if.
 

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