How Animal Welfare Laws Affect Egg Prices and Production

Like  California,  at least five  other  states (Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington) have passed laws that will eventually limit the use of so-called battery cages in egg production, and retailers like Walmart and McDonald's have made pledges to do the same.  Because this move started earlier in California, and due to the size of that state and the volume of egg production there, California represent a good case to analyze the effects of these laws.  

While I've written on this topic a number of times here on the blog (e.g., here), Conner Mullally and I have finally pulled together a revision of our earlier work that is much more comprehensive and hopefully informative.

One question that I haven't seen much addressed is: what happened to egg production in California as result of their animal welfare laws (these laws include passage of Proposition 2 by voters in 2008 which banned the production of eggs from battery cages and the subsequent passage of state law AB 1437 which banned the sale of eggs from battery cages - both were  ultimately enforced on January 1, 2015 via California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) rules)?   

Before all of this went down, Dan Sumner and other researchers at UC Davis warned that passage of Prop 2 could lead to an exodus of California egg producers and lead California retailers to increase imports of eggs from other states (that's one reason state law AB 1437 came into being - to try to prevent this outcome).  The chart below shows our analysis of the number of egg laying hens in California, which generally confirms the UC Davis researcher's conjecture made back in 2008.  

We estimate that:

by July 2016 both egg production and the number of egg-laying hens were about 35% lower than they would have been as a result of the new regulations. Out-of-state eggs were able to compensate for falling California production until around the time of implementation of the new rules, at which point imports of eggs into California fell.

Here is a graph of egg imports into the state, which Conner obtained via a FOIA request from CDFA, along with egg production in the state.

In addition to these production impacts, we were also interested in the impacts on prices paid by food consumers.  To address this issue, we obtained retail scanner data from Nielsen.  

We find that the average price paid per dozen eggs was about 22% higher from December 2014 through September 2016 than it would have been in the absence of the hen housing restrictions. The price impact fell over time, from an initial impact of about 33% per dozen to about 9% over the last six months of the observed time horizon. These price increases correspond to welfare losses of at least $117 million for the three California markets [in LA, San Diego, and San Francisco from December 2014 to September 2016]. Our results suggest annual average welfare losses of at least $2 per California household in future years.

Here is a graph of the actual (or observed) price of eggs in California compared to our prediction of what egg prices would have been had the new animal welfare laws not gone into place.