Most Americans may not be aware of the Farm Bill, but it has significant ramifications for many of us, affecting everything from the prices we pay for groceries to the information we see on food labels. And the version of this legislation passed by the House of Representatives could have even broader implications. The House Farm Bill contains a radical provision introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) that could wipe out many state and local laws regarding the production or manufacturing of agriculture products -- the Senate bill fortunately contains no such provision. House and Senate conferees even now are in negotiations over the Farm Bill, and Congress should reject any version of the so-called King amendment in the final legislation.
The disastrous King amendment could affect a wide variety of state and local laws we all depend upon to protect our health and safety, but the provision was first penned to overturn state laws protecting farm animals. In California, voters in 2008 overwhelmingly supported Proposition 2 that bans the inhumane confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves in cages so small the animals cannot stretch their limbs, lie down or turn around. California law also requires any shell eggs sold in the state to come from hens housed in compliance with Proposition 2. The Humane Society of the United States worked tirelessly to get Proposition 2 passed; it marked a major triumph for farm animals. But it was also seen as a blow by Rep. King, who represents Iowa, the top egg-producing state in the country.
King's amendment is intended to target Proposition 2, to override the wishes of California voters who want to ensure their eggs come from humanely-treated hens, and to protect the inhumane factory farming practices of some Iowa egg producers. But the scope of the King amendment is much more wide-ranging than one California law. A group of law professors from schools around the country warn that the King amendment language is open to many interpretations and could undermine vital state agricultural laws, including many that protect the safety and health of members of the public.
For instance, it could have an impact on Maryland's ban on arsenic in poultry feed; Vermont's ban on BPA in baby food jars and infant food containers; and laws in Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and Washington requiring labeling of farm-raised fish. Dogs and puppies suffering in puppy mills could lose their protection in many states. All of these issues fall within the loose definition of "agricultural products" for the purposes of the King amendment.
The King Amendment threatens to strip states of their right to ensure the health and welfare of their citizens. This is serious. The Tenth Amendment guarantees that the states' sovereign rights cannot be abridged by Congress. States have the authority to regulate in order to protect the health, safety and morals of citizens within their borders.
We can't allow Rep. Steve King to ramrod through legislation that protects factory farming interests at the expense of animal welfare and public health. Nor can we allow him to sacrifice states' rights in favor of corporate profits. The King Amendment is dangerous on many fronts and needs to be stricken from the Farm Bill.