California businessman Mike Maynard, inventor of a machine he calls the Egg King, was shell-shocked when he heard about the pending House farm bill.

At the behest of the egg-breaking industry (no yolk -- there is such a thing), the House Agriculture Committee put language in the bill that would outlaw the use of Maynard's competing Egg King.

With the backing of the Agriculture Department, the United Egg Producers, which represents the egg breakers, got Rep. Lindsay Thomas (D-Ga.) to sponsor their proposal to keep the business all to themselves.

And we're talking big business here. The egg-breaking industry is a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise, providing liquid, frozen and powdered eggs to food processors, bakeries and eating establishments that require large amounts.

The breaking plants, under USDA inspection, are allowed to use low-grade and damaged eggs that cannot be sold at retail. Maynard stipulates that only sanitized, high-grade eggs, which will be baked or cooked, can be used in his Egg King.

Maynard's centrifugal-force contraption, which separates shell and membrane from the white and yolk, gives egg users another option. He has sold 700 Egg Kings to restaurants, bakers and other food handlers who use them to crack the fresh eggs they prefer for their confections.

They like Maynard's machine because it eliminates the drudgery and cost of hand-breaking of eggs and allows them to use fresh eggs in the precise amounts they want instead of having to buy the prebroken commercial product.

"It gives them a superior product by allowing them to use fresh eggs and it gives them cost savings, because fresh eggs are cheaper," Maynard said.

But Thomas argued that machines such as the Egg King do not allow inspection of the content of individual eggs, as required by the Egg Products Inspection Act, raising the specter of salmonella infections and other threats to public health. Even though there is no record of problems where it is used, the committee agreed and decided that the Maynard machine was "inherently unsafe."

That sent Maynard scrambling for help.

The Retail Bakers of America, the American Hotel & Motel Association and the National Restaurant Association have joined him in trying to undo the committee proscription of the Egg King. Maynard's congressman, Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Calif.), has prepared an amendment that would overrule the committee and leave the Egg King sunny side up.

"It would be folly to impose such restrictions on thousands of current and potential users of these egg machines based on unproven claims by competitors that such machines are a health threat," Badham said.

"The House Agriculture Committee passed this provision by voice vote without conducting any hearings, and it would be unwarranted for the Congress to outlaw use of this new technology without any evidence that it is unsanitary."

Reading the fine print, the committee might just have bitten off more than it intended. The farm bill bars commercial processing of any eggs for human consumption in any way that does not allow examination of the content of the egg.

That could mean Congress is decreeing an end to the soft-boiled egg, the hard-boiled egg and the pickled egg at your corner eatery.