Environmental and animal-rights advocates decry farm bill amendment

chicken in cage
CC BY 2.0 Flickr user FarmWatch

The federal budget wasn't the only bill to miss a September 30 deadline. Although competing versions of the U.S. farm bill passed separately in the House and Senate, no agreement was reached by end of last month, when the previous bill expired. Last week, members from the two chambers agreed to meet in conference to discuss a final version of the 5-year bill.

Debate over cuts to the food stamp program is likely the biggest roadblock to passing a final bill, but environmental groups are also concerned about an amendment to the House version introduced by Iowa Rep. Steve King.

King's amendment seeks to limit state authority to regulate the sale of goods produced outside their boarders. The amendment is aimed at a 2008 California law that requires chickens, calves and pregnant pigs be raised with enough space "to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely." In order to protect the interests of California producers, the law also requires out-of-state products sold in the state to also meet this minimal anti-cruelty standard.

That means battery cage eggs from Iowa couldn't be sold, thus King introduced his amendment. Leighton Woodhouse, writing for The Hill, breaks it down:
"Where Californians see common sense and compassion, King claims to see constitutional peril — and constitutional redemption by way of his amendment. The “Protect Interstate Commerce Act,” which survived passage of the overall bill in the House this summer, makes it illegal for a state (such as California) to prohibit or restrict the sale of an agricultural product (such as eggs) produced in another state (such as Iowa) based upon its method of production (such as highly constrictive battery cages)."

You can read the text of the amendment here (PDF)

The King amendment is surprisingly federal-minded to come from a Tea Party favorite. Bruce Friedrich, a Senior Director of Farm Sanctuary, says the consolidation of power would "make members of the Politburo proud." He warns that the law would have far-reaching consequences:

"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."

The Organic Consumers Association says the King amendment will also stall GMO labeling efforts:

"The way the amendment is written, it would take away states' rights to pass laws on food and farming, including GMO labeling laws like the ones passed earlier this year in Maine and Connecticut, and the citizens’ initiative we’re working so hard to pass next month in Washington States."

Farm Sanctuary, the Organic Consumers Association, the Sierra Club, and Consumers Union are among the 89 organizations that signed an open letter to congress opposing the bill. These groups are also urging voters to contact their state representatives and ask for the provision to be dropped.

Environmental and animal-rights advocates decry farm bill amendment
Amendment that overturns a California animal-rights law could have big consequences for GMO labeling.