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Did the Chicken Cross State Lines? Discussing the Constitutional Implications of Implementing a Sales Ban on Inhumane Poultry Products in Ohio

Did the Chicken Cross State Lines? Discussing the Constitutional Implications of Implementing a Sales Ban on Inhumane Poultry Products in Ohio

Rachel Hanson

Chicken is the United States’ favorite meat.[1] The increased demand for poultry products has lead to the industrialization of this industry.[2] While meat production has increased immensely, animal wellbeing has significantly decreased. Due to the profitability of raising more animals in a smaller space, stocking densities for broiler chickens have grown significantly.[3] As a result, broiler chickens live in extremely crowded conditions, which suppresses their natural behaviors and restricts their movements.[4] Further, the crammed conditions create high ammonia and heat levels that place undue stress on the animals and the environment.[5] High stress conditions can negatively affect chicken health and lead to an increased risk of Campylobacter and Salmonella, two types of bacteria that cause food poisoning in humans.[6] Therefore, the mass production of poultry increases public health and environmental concerns. In addition, raising chicken in such demeaning and subversive conditions offends many individuals’ moral concerns. Thus, state regulation is necessary to advocate for change in animal welfare practices.

Several states have implemented animal confinement restrictions. Michigan and Ohio, for example, have passed laws that ban the use of gestation and veal crates as well as battery cages for egg laying hens.[7] California[8], and possibly Massachusetts[9], have taken similar steps even further by banning the sale of caged eggs within their borders. In 2014, California’s Proposition 2 came under judicial review, but the Court never reached the issue of whether the law violated the dormant Commerce Clause.[10] Therefore, under current precedence, sales bans on caged eggs are likely permissible. While improving confinement practices has made large strides in recent years, not much has been done to improve the welfare practices for broiler hens. Accordingly, this Note will address the possibility of expanding confinement restrictions to encompass broiler chickens. Further, this Note will propose an expansion of current Ohio animal welfare laws and include a sales ban on poultry products raised outside the scope the statutory language.

Part I of this Note will discuss current poultry production practices and explore the moral and ethical consequences of today’s industrial poultry production. Next, Part II will introduce my proposed language for expanding Ohio’s current livestock laws. In 2010, Ohio passed a constitutional amendment to create a Livestock Welfare Board. This Board promulgated regulations, which require the phasing out of gestation and veal crates as well as battery cages. Importantly, Ohio’s definition of “livestock” includes poultry.[11] Therefore, as the fifteenth largest producer of broiler chickens in the nation, Ohio is a good place to start improving broiler chickens’ welfare.[12] My proposed regulation will expand on Ohio’s current legislation and implement a sales ban for broiler chickens produced in inhumane conditions.

After introducing and explaining my proposed expansion of Ohio’s current sales ban on poultry products, Part III of this Note will address the constitutional implications of my proposed sales ban. This section will explain how the proposed ban applies evenhandedly and will not violate constitutional law. Namely, Ohio will be able to demonstrate that the benefit of a restriction on poultry products satisfies the Pike test, by clearly outweighing the burden on interstate commerce.[13] Ultimately, Ohio has legitimate interests in addressing the public health, environmental, and moral concerns of regulating the stocking requirements of its broiler chickens. Therefore, the proposal this Note sets forth is both necessary for chicken welfare and constitutional.

Questions and inquiries regarding this Note may be forwarded to the author at LawReview@vermontlaw.edu.


[1] Alison Speigel, Chicken more Popular than Beef in U.S. for First Time in 100 Years, Huffington Post (Jan. 23, 2014), http://ww jw.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/chicken-vs-beef_n_4525366.html.

[2] Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America, The Pew Charitable Trusts (July 26, 2011), http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2011/07/26/big-chicken-pollution-and-industrial-poultry-production-in-america.

[3] Welfare Sheet: Broiler Chicken, Compassion in World Farming 3–4 (Jan. 5, 2010), ‪https://www.researchgate.net/file.PostFileLoader.html?id=54ed8826cf57d71b7b8b45b0&assetKey=AS%3A273714325721088%401442269988163‪.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.; See also A.V.S. Gomes et. al., Overcrowding Stress Decreases Macrophage Activity and Increases Salmonella Enteritidis Invasion in Broiler Chickens, 43 Avian Pathology 82, 86 (2014)(demonstrating that higher levels of Salmonella was found in the livers of overstressed birds).

[7] Mich. Comp. Laws § 287.746 (2010); See A Milestone for Ohio Farm Animals: Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board Finalizes Welfare Standards, http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2011/04/ohio_livestock_board_042011.html (last visited Nov. 9, 2016).

[8] Cal. Health & Safety Code § 25990–25994 (2008).

[9] Massachusetts will vote on a ballot initiative to ban the use of cages and restrict the sale of caged eggs within its borders on November 8, 2016.

[10] Missouri v. Harris, 58 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1079 (E.D. Cal. 2014).

[11] Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 934.1(a) (2012).

[12] Top Broiler Producing States, Nat’l Chicken Council, http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/top-broiler-producing-states/ (last visited Oct. 31, 2016).

[13] See Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., 397 U.S. 137, 142 (1970)(finding that states may pass legislation, which may have an effect on interstate commerce, so long as the law does not create an excessive burden compared to the local benefits).  

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