Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Debate Over the King Amendment Grows

The Protect Interstate Commerce Act,  a Farm Bill amendment more commonly known as the "King Amendment" because of its author, Representative Steve King from Iowa, continues to generate controversy.

The King amendment would prevent states from imposing standards on products brought in from other states. It was written to prevent state-enacted humane standards for raising livestock, such as the California law that regulates the size of chicken cages in egg factories. According to the Iowa Egg Council, Iowa leads the nation in egg production, with nearly 60 million laying hens producing nearly 15 billion eggs per year.

Alice Daniel/KQED
The King Amendment has fueled fierce opposition from animal welfare proponents. In addition, however, it is also opposed by those who favor state and local control and who resent any federal preemption of the right of states to legislate.  See, letter from fifteen Republican Congressmen opposing the King Amendment (July 2013) on both counts.

Nevertheless, some in the House, supported by groups representing large-scale animal production continue to push for the amendment. And recently, two top Iowa state officials wrote to Iowa Senator Tom Harkin asking him to support the provision, claiming it was needed in order to protect Iowa's egg industry.

Opponents are pushing back.

Politico reported that Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of 41 farm bill conferees, warned that inclusion of the amendment in a farm bill would be a "deal breaker" that forced Democrats to vote against the overall farm bill.

Lauren Bernadett, a California attorney and a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law published an excellent editorial on the amendment and its potential consequences in Food Safety News on November 19, 2013.  Her article, Proposed King Amendment Threatens Broad Spectrum of Food Issues raises concerns about the impact of the amendment on a wide range of popular state statutes that apply not only in the context of animal welfare but, food safety and health. She notes that "[t]he practical effects of the King Amendment, if included in the final Farm Bill, would be so far-reaching that it has won the attention of animal-welfare groups, consumer and public-health groups, organic associations, environmental groups, and GMO-labeling advocates."

Most recently, Taimie Bryant, a law professor at UCLA School of Law sent a letter opposing the amendment on behalf of fourteen law professors across the United States. The letter was sent to farm bill conference committee leaders, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), and Representatives Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).  It provides a thoughtful analysis of the wide-ranging and unintended negative consequences of the broadly written amendment. They argue persuasively that the amendment would apply to a host of health and safety related provisions and essentially tie the hands of state officials who seek to exert influence over food and agricultural products within the state.

The majority of American consumers would like to see common-sense and reasonable animal welfare standards incorporated into livestock production. When livestock is produced outside of such standards, as unfortunately has been the case in a variety of contexts, it leads to citizen action, state initiatives, and legislation. While some in the animal industry blame animal welfare organizations, the fault is most often their own. The conditions within egg factories are the genesis for laws that require additional welfare standards for laying hens.

It would be far more productive for the industry in the long run to work with consumers and with animal welfare advocates to develop reasonable protections for the animals under their care -  to step back from some of the most egregious practices -  rather than lobbying for protective legislation that would preempt all manner of state control.  Many California farmers, even those who initially fought the California law, have discovered that the new standards work well for them, and the hens (and their operations) are doing better.  They oppose the King Amendment as well.

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12/10/2013 12:27 PM  

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