Congress may be on recess, but lawmakers face the remaining task of ironing out a final Farm Bill. Key among their decisions will be the fate of a radical and overreaching amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-IA. A long-time opponent of anti-cruelty laws, King has tried to thwart laws cracking down on dog fighting, laws that help pets and their owners during natural disasters, and more. Now he has a provision that could wipe out dozens of state laws on farm animal confinement, puppy mills, horse slaughter, shark finning, and even dog meat.
After just a few minutes of late-night discussion among a small handful of lawmakers, King managed to insert an amendment in the House of Representatives' version of the pending Farm Bill that could nullify vast numbers of state laws protecting animals from cruelty. Ostensibly aimed at erasing California's landmark law requiring better treatment of egg-laying hens, King's amendment would force states to allow commerce of virtually any agricultural product, regardless of how dangerous, unethical or unsafe that product may be.
King's amendment is so sweepingly broad, its impact goes far beyond the animal welfare laws King wants banished from the books. That's one reason a massive coalition of organizations -- representing consumer, sustainable agriculture, environmental, public health, worker safety, and other concerns -- has banded together to demand that King's amendment be kept out of any final House-Senate package.
And their voices are being heard.
For example, The Washington Post editorial board condemned King's effort, saying it "hurts chickens -- and Americans." And Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Kathleen Parker dubbed the amendment the "Inhumane Farm Bill Measure." Even Stephen Colbert had a humorous take on the issue.
These opinion-makers are joined by other heavy-hitters such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, which wrote senior congressional agricultural leaders urging them to kill King's amendment. The Fraternal Order of Police condemned the amendment too, citing its concern that states must be able to have their own anti-cruelty laws. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and 21 other fire and emergency services organizations also appealed to Congress expressing their opposition, since, tobacco being an agricultural product, King's amendment could nullify state laws regarding fire-safe cigarettes.
Whether one cares about states' rights (as King's own party proclaims), decency toward animals, or laws to prevent fires -- and firefighter deaths -- it seems there's something about the King amendment that's odious to just about everyone.
It's upon this backdrop of overwhelming opposition that congressional leaders return to Washington next week to consider the Farm Bill's fate. The Senate version of the legislation has no similar provision, making the fix clear: go with the Senate position on this in a joint conference committee. The current law expires at the end of September, so there's pressure to iron out the House-Senate differences.
Leaders like Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK -- chairman of the House Agriculture Committee -- have been hearing a lot from their constituents on this issue. For example, Oklahomans have been sounding off in the opinion pages of their state's newspapers, unanimously in favor of Lucas killing the King amendment. (Examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here to name a few.)
For so many reasons, it's incumbent upon Farm Bill conferees returning from their recess to do the right thing: dethrone the King amendment. Individuals who want to ensure that their elected officials do just that can visit The Humane Society of the United States' website for ways to help.
Follow Paul Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@pshapiro