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Amendment To Farm Bill Could Be End To Humane Farming Standards

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A proposed amendment to the $1 trillion federal farm bill is of concern to both states’ rights and humane farming advocates as Congress looks to finalize the bill passed in the House earlier this year.

The Protect Interstate Commerce Act, introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), would amend the farm bill by limiting states’ power to supervise their own farming standards. Under the legislation, states would be banned from enacting farm product regulations stricter than what other states mandate.

The bill would overturn several state laws, namely California’s Proposition 2, a farming standards statute passed in 2008 requiring that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs have enough room in their quarters to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs or wings and turn around freely. Two years later, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a requirement that all eggs sold in California be produced under Prop 2’s standards. Such a law, he said, was necessary to protect California’s egg farmers from out-of-state egg producers taking advantage of Californians’ compassion for livestock.

That egg law now sits at the center of King’s fight to pass his amendment.

“This restriction places an incredible burden on farmers across the nation to spend up to as much as $40 per hen to completely restructure entire farming operations,” King wrote in a 2012 newsletter. “Regardless of how they're produced, eggs are already regulated by the Federal Egg Inspection Act, which ensures all eggs entering interstate commerce are safe for the consumer.”

King’s home state of Iowa happens to be the nation’s largest producer of eggs by a longshot, producing even twice as many as second-largest producer Pennsylvania.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and several House Republicans have written letters saying the amendment would override 12 state restriction on firewood enacted to fight invasive pests and five state laws mandating labels for farm-raised catfish.

The proposed amendment doesn’t bode well with proponents of states' rights either. The bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures wrote to the House and Senate agriculture committees on Tuesday, Nov. 12, asking them to pass the farm bill without the amendment.

King’s act would “erode state sovereignty by preempting state laws protecting our nation’s food production and manufacturing as well as increase state administrative costs,” the group wrote.

But King points to the constitutional power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce as means to prevent excessive trade barriers that would stunt the national economy.

“It is unconstitutional for Iowa farmers, for example, who strenuously work to follow the law, to be told by other states how to care for their animals,” King wrote.

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