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Chickens beat eggs in Proposition 2 lawsuit

September 23, 2008 |  9:36 am

Mama_mia Ever wonder which came first, the chicken or the egg? A little birdie writes from Sacramento that in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of San Francisco, it’s the chicken:

Just how a district court judge wound up weighing in on such a momentous question began, like a lot of things in California, with our initiative process.

Proposition 2 on the November ballot, which mandates more humane treatment of farm animals, says that egg-laying hens, pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal can't be confined in a way that keeps them from "turning freely, lying down, standing up or fully extending their limbs."

Seems simple enough, but when word trickled down that the American Egg Board was about to spend up to $3 million in federal advertising dollars to help defeat Proposition 2, proponents of the measure, including the Humane Society of the United States and the Consumer Federation of America, took the matter to court.

The American Egg Board would be violating the federal law that prohibits spending such funds "for the purpose of influencing governmental policy or action," they argued, and  Judge Patel agreed. She's issued an injunction saying, in effect, that the egg board may not spend those funds against the initiative designed to help chickens.

"With everything going on with our financial markets, the federal government has better things to do with millions of dollars than interfering with a state election..." complained Jonathan Lovvorn, a lawyer for Proposition 2 opponents.

All of which shows that when the egg board comes up against a chicken initiative in Judge Patel’s courtroom, the chicken comes first.

All of which makes this photo of dancing chickens and eggs, shot last week in North Korea, oddly appropriate. It's part of a "mass games" performance, with this segment a celebration of agricultural self-reliance.

--Veronique de Turenne

Photo: David Guttenfelder / Associated Press