Imagine a country where states are forced to legalize dog, cat and horse meat. Where states could no longer set anti-cruelty and public health standards for meat and eggs sold to their residents. Where laws preventing puppy mill abuse and the trade in shark fins are wiped away. That nightmarish scenario could soon become a reality.
Scheduled for a vote this week, the House version of the Farm Bill contains an amendment Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, got adopted in committee. The amendment could eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of state and local laws protecting animals, children, workers, consumers and the environment. (Yes, it’s the same Rep. Steve King who made national headlines defending dog fighting.)
King’s primary goal is to undermine our historic California egg law that requires that shell eggs sold in the state come from hens who are not cruelly confined. But the King Amendment goes beyond California and could effectively strip all states of their right to regulate any agricultural products sold within their own borders, forcing a lowest-common-denominator approach: if any one state allows a particular production practice, all other states could be forced to allow it too, no matter how unsafe or immoral it is.
To show you how sweeping the King Amendment is, here are just a few examples of laws on a range of topics that would be jeopardized if it were enacted:
- Prohibition on sale of horse meat for human consumption (Illinois)
- Prohibition on sale, distribution, and import of noxious or invasive plant species (Vermont)
- Prohibition on selling dangerous pesticides unless the label bears a skull and crossbones and the word “poison” and a statement of an antidote for the pesticide (South Dakota)
- Requirements for sale of raw milk (Arkansas)
- Ban on certain plant products that contain opioid properties (Alabama)
- Prohibition on the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs, and prohibition on the sale of those products (Massachusetts)
- Law making it a misdemeanor to knowingly sell or offer for sale any food product represented as kosher when the person knows that the product is not kosher (Washington)
- Environmental performance standards for agricultural operations (Wisconsin)
- Mandatory labeling requirements for genetically-engineered food, seed or seed stock (Connecticut)
- Limits on child labor among seasonal farm workers (Pennsylvania)
- Ban on the production and sale of infant food containers and baby food jars that include BPA (Vermont)
The King Amendment could also hurt the agriculture industry itself. New Mexico chili peppers, Florida citrus fruits and Tennessee whiskey are just a few of the flagship industries currently protected by state law from false and misleading labels.
Additionally, the House of Representatives will be voting on two amendments to the Farm Bill that have positive impacts on animal welfare. The first is Amendment #28 submitted by Reps. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., John Faso, R-N.Y. and Steve Knight, R-Calif. Mirroring the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, H.R. 4202, it amends the Animal Welfare Act to clarify that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity that affect interstate or foreign commerce apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. Ambiguities in current federal law create doubt about the enforceability of these prohibitions in the U.S. territories. The amendment will protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from related criminal activity such as drug trafficking and gangs, strengthen enforcement of federal animal fighting law across the United States, and protect public health and the food supply from disease transmission such as an outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease in California in 2002-2003 that cost taxpayers nearly $200 million to eradicate, and human fatalities in Asia from bird flu reportedly linked to cockfighting exposure.
Last June, a Remington Research poll of 1,000 registered voters in Puerto Rico revealed that citizens support a ban on cockfighting by a two-to-one margin among those with a position on the question. Dogfighting is already a felony in Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Strengthening federal law against animal fighting is an issue that has consistently garnered huge bipartisan support, with Congress enacting animal fighting provisions in each of the last three Farm Bills and free-standing legislation in 2007.
The second pro-animal welfare amendment is #24 introduced by Reps. Dave Brat, R-Va., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Dina Titus, D-Nev. and it addresses commodity checkoff programs. These programs were established to allow agricultural producers to pool money for common promotional purposes. The mandatory checkoff fees go to federal, industry-specific boards, which are required by law to use the funds for mutually beneficial marketing campaigns and research, and are prohibited from using the funds for lobbying.
Unfortunately, checkoff programs’ activity has come to exceed the scope of their statutory mandates. Lax USDA oversight has resulted in collusive illegal relationships between checkoff boards and lobbying organizations, both of which use checkoff funds to lobby against family farmers who value traditional husbandry practices, and to advocate against animal welfare initiatives. This amendment based on the Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, H.R. 1753, will establish transparency and accountability requirements for checkoff programs and prohibit a checkoff board and its employees and agents acting in their official capacity from engaging in any act that involves a conflict of interest, anti-competitive activity, or unfair or deceptive act or practice toward other agricultural products. Those supporting the amendment include the National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, R Street, Organization for Competitive Markets, Family Farm Action and National Dairy Producers Organization.
If you agree with me that animals, as well as children, consumers, and the environment, deserve our protection, please call your representative and urge him or her to vote YES on Amendments #24 and #28 regarding checkoff and animal fighting, but vote NO on final passage of the House Farm Bill because it contains the outrageous King amendment. Please also let your senators know that you oppose Rep. Steve King’s amendment to the House Farm Bill and want them to do all they can to keep it out of any final package. Take action here.