Experts gather on Capitol Hill to condemn dangerous EATS Act

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on June 21, 2023 with 6 Comments

The U.S. Congress has been the scene of many a power grab over the years, but few have been as brazen as the current bid to tack onto the upcoming farm bill a vague and overreaching measure known as the EATS Act (S. 2019 in the Senate, with companion House legislation expected to be reintroduced soon). As an acronym, EATS stands for “Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression,” but in a classic Orwellian twist, the measure doesn’t end trade suppression. Actually, it encourages it.

To be clear, the EATS Act is a creature of an outlier minority faction in the pork industry. They fought against the passage of California’s Proposition 12, the country’s strongest farm animal protection law, and then its implementation, all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided against them in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross. Though they apparently want access to California’s market, the pork industry’s trade associations chose to wage this fight rather than encouraging producers (as the egg industry did) to take meaningful steps toward compliance with the state’s animal welfare standards. Now they’re digging in further, demanding that Congress upend 250 years of state and local authority to regulate the production and sale of agricultural products within a state’s borders.

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the country’s strongest farm animal protection law, some members of the pork industry who fought Proposition 12 are pushing the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act, which would jeopardize hundreds of state and local laws on animal welfare and other concerns. The HSUS

Speaking truth to power often involves unmasking the untruths that power peddles whenever and wherever profits are at stake. On Tuesday, we did that, joining with business, legal, economic, and government experts to make the case against EATS at congressional briefings.

Our expert panelists on Tuesday included:

  • Michigan Solicitor General Ann Sherman
  • Chris Oliviero, general manager, Niman Ranch (a Perdue Farms brand)
  • Professor Scott Ballenger, University of Virginia School of Law
  • Jeff Peterson, director, Proterra Investment Partners
  • Professor Galina Hale, University of California Santa Cruz’s Center for Analytical Finance
  • Chris Green, Harvard Law School
  • Ralph Henry, senior director, the HSUS Animal Protection Law division

Together, we made the case that if passed into law, the EATS Act could strip all states of their traditional authority to enact standards for the in-state production and sale of any agricultural products; such standards address food safety, public health, animal welfare and a host of other concerns.

Ralph Henry, senior director of Animal Protection Law at the Humane Society of the United States, speaks against the EATS Act at a congressional briefing on Tuesday. Bernie Unti/The HSUS

In effect, the EATS Act inflicts a bottom-of-the-barrel framework on the entire nation, steering agricultural production, including the production of animal-derived foods, to the lowest standard around. If any one state permits the production or sale of a particular agricultural product, no matter how hazardous, low-grade or morally objectionable the circumstances of its production, every other state might be forced to do so and suffer the associated risks and harms.

By the logic of the EATS Act, if there is a lack of standards anywhere—under federal or state law—that shoddy benchmark will be the one that governs commerce in every corner of the country. For the entire history of this country, the states have regulated food and related activities, responding to local and regional conditions. The pork industry’s attempt to nationalize this responsibility by preempting all state law—even when there’s no federal standard in place—would produce a true hell on earth for animals, consumers, production workers and small and independent producers—in sum, a nightmare for the country.

Our panelists emphasized that a bill like this is made for Big Pork, which for decades has pursued technocratic efficiency at the expense of everything else, especially the welfare of animals. The pork barons behind this bill don’t seem to understand the world we’re living in now. Above all, they seem oblivious to the dramatic shift in consumer preferences and corporate supply chain decisions favoring higher animal welfare standards. Big Pork bet against these trends and lost—first with people who voted for change, and then in the courts.

So, they’re seeking a political handout from Congress that would erect barriers against change, limit innovation in the marketplace, and disadvantage those producers who have already moved to respond to consumer trends and preferences. Under EATS, there would be little room for consumer choice. And animal welfare, public health and other standards would disappear.

It’s worth remembering that the Supreme Court was unanimous on the basic issue in the recent Proposition 12 case. The justices rejected the pork industry’s central argument, seeking the same rule that it now seeks in Congress—that a state cannot regulate its own market if doing so has incidental effects outside of the state. Not a single justice thought California was acting in a manner that improperly regulated conduct outside of its borders.

Some proponents of the EATS Act are pounding their chests and shouting themselves hoarse in defense of free market economies. Yet none of the standards at issue force out-of-state economic actors to do anything. Those who want to sell products to California consumers can choose to operate there by meeting California’s standards (and the same applies for other states’ standards). No one has to do so.

Differentiation of America’s supply chains is not a new thing, and many of the nation’s biggest producers have said they can meet the standards in California and other states with similar laws while continuing to supply other markets. That includes many small farmers who have chosen to take advantage of the emerging market for high-welfare animal products in California and more than a dozen other states that have passed similar laws.

It’s becoming clearer by the day that the pork lobby’s efforts to sabotage Proposition 12 and related laws are themselves disruptive of the market and threaten to put well over a billion dollars of investment at risk, the investments of those producers who have already moved to satisfy consumer and voter demand. On top of that, the overbroad framing of the measure will create confusion and disruption in relation to many state laws and regulations on other topics. By their intransigence, the NPPC and its allies are creating dangerous chaos and uncertainty in the national marketplace.

For these and other reasons, we are determined to keep the EATS Act and anything like it out of the farm bill. Ironically, the senators and representatives supporting the EATS Act have put themselves in the strange position of undermining the interests of their own states and the nation as a whole. We’re working as hard as we can to persuade their undecided colleagues that EATS is no kind of good governance. Quite the opposite.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Karin Erker says:

    Stop die Tierquälerei

  2. Ellen Edwards-Thrasher says:

    These people fighting against, just being humane … why is is so hard to treat an animal with respect and give them a comfortable place to stay and bear their babies so meat eaters can stuff their faces with meat ! Humans are the most dangerous predator on the planet, for GODS sake have some empathy for these suffering animals. Your PROFIT AND QUALITY OF YOUR PRODUCT WILL BE MUCH BETTER with better living conditions !

  3. Madonna M. Brewer says:

    It breaks my heart to think about how hard we work. US citizens are changing our communities to teach, report, and support animal welfare. Just like how hard we work for climate control. When will our government realize they are in their position because we trusted and voted for them to speak for us and our concerns. None of our concerns are taking precedence over the government’s agenda, not ours.
    I remember writing my congresswoman in Maryland in 1990 about the issue of gun control. My answer was that she disagreed with me, which is how she would vote. No answers to my concerns at all. I then realized that they only promise what they think we want to hear while running for office. Their words are useless. You have to look at their voting history to know the truth. Let Donald Trump be the main proven evidence of that.
    We as citizens must continue fighting for animal welfare, climate control, and the rights and protection of the elderly and children. We are supposed to be the caretakers of the earth for future generations. Not use it up for our own good and leave this mess to our children, which is when it is too late to save. We were taught about the future of clean water and food in grade school in the 1960s.
    I want to know more about how we, as citizens, can help to care for the animals in our shelter here in Siler City. They lost their license to pick up stray animals d/t poor care, cleanliness, and maltreatment of the animals found in their facility. Someone who worked there reported them, and an investigation took place. The veterinarians in the area (2) are taking in the sick, starved, and mistreated to the extent of broken hips, head traumas, etc. They bring them back to health and train them, and they are extremely cautious about who they allow to adopt these poor animals.
    There is still so much work to be done. In our town alone, dogs are chained outside in all weather conditions. I hear them cry every night. I called the humane society, and they came out but never followed up. One dog died from a snake bite, and the other cries and cries. It is sick. Someone was tired of hearing it and poisoned two other dogs on our street. It is so disgusting.
    Congress has been known to slide its agenda into new bills to get them passed. We have a right to know what was added and can stop it if it supports bills we don’t want. This is sneaky but true.

    • Natalia Vann says:

      It’s beyond sneaky, and there’s even more truth to be uncovered. The facts remain that the US government has been taken over by those profit-seeking businesses who have the money to pay off the criminals who are mistakenly called politicians. The politicians get rich by ignoring we, the citizens and by passing legislation which transfers any of our remaining power for self- government to their real masters. The fate of our nation (along with those of other former democracies) now hangs in the balance along with the fate of our planet and all species with whom we share it.

  4. Dena S says:

    As always, I commend your efforts and donate what I can afford to further the cause. That being said, I hope you will bring some focus in Congress and elsewhere on the destruction of our sea life in the name of Climate Change. Instead of human beings changing their habits such as rarely using their air conditioners, stop buying prepackaged products or products in plastic to name a few, we decide to continue our self absorbed behavior and construct wind turbines in the ocean. Currently this is happening off of the coast of NY and NJ and numerous whales has died and washed up on the shore. The wind turbines are also killing birds some of which are close to being endangered. Many studies have shown this to be true. Studies have also shown that wind turbine effect on Climate Change are negligible. I have included some links. I do not believe the benefits outweigh the risks to our natural habitat. Shockingly in the Nature Conservancy’s (who I also donate to) Spring 2023 publication of Nature.Org on page 11 they are actually pushing for wind turbines. They even state that “artificial reefs will be created to mimic local species habitat.” I’m not quite sure why they are pushing to destroy something natural and push for something artificial but if I lived in the ocean it would not sound good to me. I am including some links so that you can do your own research. Nothing is more important than protecting our natural resources but I will also include what effect these turbines would have on local communities. Hopefully you can join with other conservation groups (where is Save the Whales?) to prevent these atrocities from happening.

  5. Michael Imlay says:

    The Standard American Diet (SAD) is killing people. Americans have the worst health outcomes of any industrialized country. As a nation, we spend much more on health care than any other country. We have been convinced that the solution is more and more powerful drugs. Most of this money would be much better spent on ensuring that the quality of our food is healthy. We need to cultivate a culture of respecting the animals and plants that are our food. We need to support small farmers that are growing plants and raising animals in a responsible way. We can’t let Big Ag and Big Pharma control our lives in the name of free markets. Don’t let the EATS Act pass.

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