Farm Bill Could Overturn Dozens of State Laws. Why Does Tea Party Darling Steve King Want to Centralize Power in Washington?

Although the House and Senate have now passed competing versions of the Farm Bill, and although the Senate appointed conferees before the Congress' August recess, the House has yet to do so.

Nevertheless, the buzz from Capitol Hill is that farm state members are pushing for passage of a new Farm Bill, if not before last year's extension expires on Monday (unlikely but not entirely impossible), at least before most of the provisions expire at year's end.

One provision of the Farm Bill that should be rejected by everyone who cares about consumer safety, animal protection, the environment, workers' rights, or federalism is the amendment proposed by Iowa Rep. Steve King and passed by the House with no discussion.

The "King Amendment" (Sec. 11312 of H.R. 2642) dictates that "the government of a State or locality therein shall not impose a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce if (1) such production or manufacture occurs in another State; and (2) the standard or condition is in addition to the standards and conditions applicable to such production or manufacture pursuant to (A) Federal law; and (B) the laws of the State and locality in which such production or manufacture occurs."

In simpler terms: King's amendment will create a race to the regulatory bottom on issues from consumer protection to fire safety to animal welfare by dictating that no state can require any condition on the sale of any agricultural product that falls even one step above that of the least restrictive state. Despite states' clear interest and longstanding authority in these areas, Steve King thinks that the federal government knows best and should tell Iowa, Mississippi, Oklahoma and all other states what they can and can't do.

It's worth noting that Rep. King is a darling of the Tea Party who claims to support states' rights and local governance. So it's curious that his most high-profile legislative effort is focused on consolidating power in the federal government to a degree that would make members of the Politburo proud.

A letter from more than 150 House members to agricultural committee ranking member Collin Peterson explains that King's provision "has the potential to repeal a vast array of state laws and regulations covering everything from food safety to environmental protection to child labor to animal welfare. For example, labeling and other rules for products and ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, maple syrup, milk fat, farm-raised fish, tobacco, and additives in alcohol could be swept away, as could restrictions on import of firewood carrying invasive pests, rules on pesticide exposure and lagoon siting, safety standards for farm workers handling dangerous equipment, and laws restricting practices such as the killing of sharks for their fins and the sale of dog and cat meat."

Two statutes that we're especially concerned about at Farm Sanctuary are the bipartisan laws we helped to pass in California that protect ducks, hens, pigs, and calves.

First, in 2004 the California legislature overwhelmingly passed, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, a law that makes it illegal to "force feed a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size." The target of the law is foie gras, the production of which is illegal in dozens of countries and is condemned by every animal protection organization of which I'm aware, from the World Society for the Protection of Animals to the Humane Society of the United States.

The product is so cruel to ducks that death rates skyrocket by 10 to 20 times during force-feeding, and all of the animals become sick and lethargic. The Chair of the Democratic Party of California, John Burton, explained that "ramming food down a duck's throat to make a gourmet item known as foie gras is not only unnecessary, it's inhumane."

Second, in 2008, California voters banned confinement systems for hens, pregnant pigs, and calves that prevent the animals from being able to turn around or fully extend their limbs.

These systems, which destroy the animals' minds and bodies, are among the cruelest of all factory farming abuses. We spent significant resources, and countless staff and volunteer hours, putting the measure on the ballot and encouraging California voters to support it. The measure garnered more votes than any other in California ballot history to that point and was supported by a majority of voters in every demographic.

King's Amendment could nullify (or at least render toothless) both of these democratically enacted laws and, according to the House sign-on letter, an "untold number of [other] duly-enacted state laws and regulations affecting agricultural Production."

Members of Congress who care about the environment, animals, or consumers should oppose the King Amendment because of the horrible effect the law will have on these interests. The broad reach of the law explains why more than 85 consumer, labor, environmental, and animal protection organizations have signed a letter that was delivered to every member of congress decrying King's anti-democratic effort to consolidate power in Washington.

Members of Congress who care about states' rights, smaller federal government, and localized decision-making should join in the effort to remove the King Amendment from the final version of the Farm Bill, both because of the radical trampling of the traditional powers of the states to regulate important issues that impact its citizens, and for the precedent such overreach will set. Because of its broad reach, King's amendment is opposed by groups and individuals ranging from the National Conference of State Legislators and the Fraternal Order of Police to the Humane Society of the United States and the League of Conservation Voters--and many more.

Unfortunately, all that matters now is what the House and Senate conferees will do, and they could act any day.

Please contact your legislators right now to ask that they pressure Farm Bill conferees to reject the King Amendment in the final version of the Farm Bill.

A version of this opinion piece first appeared in the Des Moines Register on Sept. 23.


The sale of foie gras is currently illegal in California; Steve King's Farm Bill provision would overturn that law and dozens of others that protect animals, the environment, consumers, and more.