King Amendment could be deal breaker on farm bill

Jan 4, 2014

The optimists are still voicing plans for a final farm bill signed by mid-January, but the latest extension and deadline, along with a number of controversial amendments, make the task seem a bit more daunting. Without a farm bill, laws could revert back to what was on the books in the 1940’s, wreaking havoc on today’s agriculture.

While Congress begins what is hopefully the final discussion on the 2013 Farm Bill, one amendment, Republican Iowa Congressman Steve King’s Amendment, the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), also referred to as the “King Amendment,” is stirring up controversy in the legal arena, and with animal rights groups.

The King amendment to the farm bill would prohibit any one state from enacting laws that dictate agricultural production methods within another state. With increased pressures and overreaching authority claimed by animal rights groups and detractors of new farm technology to dictate state laws and regulations for animal agriculture, such action from Congress is necessary, according to groups such as Protect the Harvest.

“Congressman King’s amendment is intended to protect the rest of America from anti-agricultural extremists and radical animal rights schemes that ban products from certain states that don’t meet arbitrary labeling or segregation standards,” according to Steele Shippy with Protect the Harvest.

In December, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey wrote a letter to the farm bill conference committee and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, asking for support on the King Amendment.

“Supporting the King Amendment will prevent a few large states like California and New York from dictating the modes of agricultural production in Iowa and other states. Congressman King’s amendment would still allow states to restrict agricultural operations within their own state borders and jurisdiction, but the amendment would not allow any state to violate the Commerce Clause by restricting the sale of certain agriculture goods produced differently in another state. There are already federal, state and local food safety laws to protect consumers and not enacting the King Amendment in all practicality would mean California and a few other big states could dictate how family farmers and agricultural producers all across the country have to produce their products. The amendment would not prevent states from imposing future food safety requirements and merely clarifies that a state cannot prohibit the import of a product from another state based solely on that product’s means of production. If a state so chose, it could enact labeling requirements for various modes of production,” they wrote.

According to Branstad and Northey, the amendment will not affect food prices, and in fact, would do just the opposite—or at least maintain prices, protecting producers from burdensome and costly regulations.

“Regulatory production restrictions, similar to those which California seeks to impose, have already been implemented in Europe and have led to increased food costs. In just one example, new cage size laws in the European Union have decreased the supply of eggs to consumers in Central and Eastern Europe. According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on April 4, 2012, the average price of 10 eggs in the Czech Republic more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, and consumers on average across the entire EU were forced to pay 76.5% more per egg in 2012 than they paid in 2011. EU restrictions have had a very negative impact on the availability of eggs to the average consumer,” they wrote.

The farm bill, quite possibly one of the most important pieces of legislation on the table, is destined to wreak havoc in Congress with Amendments such as King’s.

Other groups have been expressing their concern about what the amendment could mean for states’ rights, the environment, animal welfare and food safety.

In December, 14 law professors added their two cents to the discussion.

In a letter sent to the farm bill’s top four conferees, the law professors wrote, “Should the Amendment pass, there is a significant likelihood that many state agricultural laws across the country will be nullified, that public health and safety will be threatened, and that the Amendment could ultimately be deemed unconstitutional.”

But according to King, the possibility his amendment could nullify as many as 176 state laws is “not true. … We can only find one that we’re confident of, and that’s California’s [law regulating eggs from hens in a minimum cage size], which is only the regulation of out-ofstate producers, and it looks like there may also be one in Michigan that does the same thing as California’s.”

“Although the exact number of laws that might be affected cannot be determined,” the law professors wrote, “We believe Representative King’s oftrepeated assertion that the law is limited to egg laws in California and a handful of similar humane laws is patently false.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey released statements in response to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s comments made during a conference call in which he reportedly claimed the King Amendment to the farm bill is “troublesome.”

“It is very troublesome that Secretary Vilsack appears to be siding with California and HSUS rather than standing up for all farmers producing legal and safe agriculture products. If the Secretary truly has concerns about the King Amendment, then he should work to address those concerns while the bill is in conference committee rather than speaking out against it,” declared Northey.

In 2008, California passed Prop 2, primarily led and funded by the Humane Society of the United States, which created arbitrary cage size requirements for laying hens, according to Shippy. Soon after the initiative passed, lawmakers realized that California producers, faced with Prop 2 compliance, would simply move production facilities across state lines. This prompted a second California law to regulate the sale of eggs sold in California supplied by out-ofstate producers. This law seemingly conflicts with the commerce clause found in Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution, Shippy shared in a blog post.

“California should not be allowed to dictate production methods to the rest of the country. This has the makings of an internal U.S. trade war. If it starts with eggs, you can be sure it won’t end with eggs,” Northey added.

“I would hope and expect Secretary Vilsack to be supportive of laws that ensure consumers have access to legal and safe products. USDA inspectors approve the sale of egg products. If eggs are safe to be sold in Iowa and around the country they should be able to be sold in California. That is all this amendment is trying to assure,” Northey continued. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor