Last night, during a marathon round of voting on amendments to its version of the Farm Bill, the House Agriculture Committee approved a destructive and constitutionally questionable amendment, offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that threatens to wipe out important state laws banning the cruelest factory farming practices, and leave a raft of other state laws and rules regulating agriculture hanging in the balance.
The committee, over the objections of its leadership, did approve an amendment led by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., by a vote of 28-17, building on the existing federal law against animal fighting by making it a crime to knowingly attend or bring a child to an animal fight (the vote tally is pasted below). The Senate Committee on Agriculture, which took up its version of the Farm Bill on Tuesday, included a similar provision in its bill, thanks to the efforts of committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss. With both versions of the Farm Bill including the same core provisions on animal fighting, it should be included in any final bill approved by the Congress.
Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and former chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, spoke out against the animal fighting bill. Goodlatte said he felt the McGovern amendment provides too severe a penalty for perpetrators, and argued that parents who brought a child to a dogfight would be separated from their children and that was something he couldn’t support. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, one of the two veterinarians in the House, said he worried much more about not interceding when a parent brings a child to an animal fighting spectacle, with the violence and other forms of criminality all right out in the open. Ironically, Goodlatte touted his support for a prior upgrade of the federal animal fighting law in 2007, making interstate transport of animals for fighting a federal felony. Someone arrested for that crime has as much a chance of being separated from a child as an individual arrested for a bringing a child directly to a fight. The argument made little sense, and appeared to be just another attempt to stand in the way of any progress for animal welfare.
Goodlatte also joined Rep. King’s gambit to wipe out numerous state animal protection laws, including those regarding factory farm confinement, horse slaughter and shark finning, along with others related to food safety, environmental protection, worker safety and more. King’s measure passed by a voice vote after a contentious debate. There were forceful arguments raised against it by Reps. Jim Costa, D-Calif., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., John Garamendi, D-Calif., and Schrader.
If passed by the full House, King’s amendment could allow the overturning of every voter-approved animal welfare ballot measure relating to agriculture, including Proposition 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves and laying hens), Proposition 6 in California (forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption), Proposition 204 in Arizona (banning veal and pig gestation crates) and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing pig gestation crates). The amendment could also nullify six other state bans on gestation crates, horse slaughter bans in six states, comprehensive animal welfare standards adopted by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, and a raft of anti-downer laws and other animal protection laws designed to shield farm animals from abuse and extreme confinement.
The Senate version of the Farm Bill does not contain any language similar to the King amendment. The HSUS and other groups will work to strip the King amendment from the House Farm Bill on the floor, and also push for adoption of the landmark agreement between animal welfare groups and the egg industry in phasing out the use of conventional battery cages, and creating minimum care standards for the welfare of laying hens. The battle over the Farm Bill is just now gearing up and now all members of Congress, and their constituents, can have input on the process.
Animal Fighting Amendment Votes: