A Radical Federal Attack on States’ Rights
The House Agriculture Committee will take up the Farm Bill tomorrow morning, and will consider an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that seeks to negate most state and local laws regarding the production or manufacture of agriculture products. It’s a radical federal overreach that would undermine the longstanding Constitutional rights of states to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens and local businesses.
The amendment takes aim at state laws such as California’s Proposition 2, approved overwhelmingly by voters across the state in 2008—to ban extreme confinement of egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and veal calves in small crates and cages—and a law passed subsequently by a landslide margin in the state legislature, with the support of the egg industry, to require any shell eggs sold in California to comply with the requirements of Prop 2. In addition, the King amendment seeks to nullify state laws in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington (and a bill that could be signed into law soon in New Jersey) dealing with intensive confinement of farm animals. It could also undo laws on horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat in California, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas, bans on the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, bans on possession and commerce of shark fins in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, a series of farm animal welfare regulations passed by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.
Legal safeguards and standards that protect by far the majority of Americans, maybe all Americans depending on ultimate interpretations, as well as protections for untold millions of farm animals, would be upended by this power grab. All of these laws were duly passed by legislators, voters, or regulators. It’s not the proper role of Congress to eviscerate what the states are doing, especially when so many lawmakers say they are for states’ rights. The states have a role in agriculture policy, too.
In fact, Rep. King’s proposal violates the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the states’ sovereign rights cannot be abridged by Congress, and tries to eliminate states’ police powers within their borders, destroying the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding. It would force states to allow commerce in products they have banned. As the Supreme Court has made clear, the Commerce Clause allows Congress to regulate commerce; it doesn't give Congress the authority to mandate its creation, nor to require anyone to participate in commerce they find objectionable.
The King amendment is most directly an attack on the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, H.R. 1731 and S. 820, which would ratify an agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups. Historically, when Congress preempts state laws it is in order to replace them with a uniform national standard, and that is the idea behind the egg bill. If there is a problem with interstate commerce caused by conflicting state laws, such as on the housing of egg-laying hens, it should be solved with a uniform national standard that provides regulatory certainty and is supported by the key stakeholders—the egg industry, veterinary groups, animal welfare groups, and consumer groups—as is H.R. 1731/S. 820. Rather than having a reasonable national standard, King wants no standards at all, state or federal.
While the King amendment ostensibly seeks to target animal welfare, it is so broad and vague that it could be interpreted to nullify an entire swath of state laws dealing with food safety, labeling, labor, and environmental protection. It could trigger expensive court cases about any state law related to agricultural products. Here are just some examples of state laws under the King amendment’s ax:
- Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington laws requiring labeling of farm-raised fish
- Vermont’s ban on BPA in baby food jars and infant food containers
- Maryland’s ban on arsenic in poultry feed
- California’s Proposition 65 requiring the state to publish a list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm, and businesses to notify citizens about significant amounts of chemicals in products, homes, workplaces, or released into the environment
- state pollution standards, such as bans on spraying sewage on crops directly before they are fed to people, and laws such as Minnesota’s requiring farmers to hire a licensed sludge applicator and restricting when and how sludge can be applied to cropland or pasture
- bans on use of dangerous pesticides on crops, such as California’s ban on methyl iodide use for strawberries
- Iowa’s labeling requirements and germination standards for seeds
- Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin laws restricting firewood transported into the state in order to protect against invasive pests and damage to local forests
- Iowa’s prohibition on sale of raw milk
- Iowa’s ban on use of any fat or oil other than milk fat in milk, cream, ice cream, and certain other dairy products
- Iowa’s requirement for labeling of artificial sweeteners in products
- South Dakota’s label requirements for distiller’s grains sold as livestock feed to specify sulfur percentage
- various laws concerning agricultural employment, including child labor laws, standards for inspections and certification programs, laws governing use of dangerous farm machinery (such as Washington’s mandate for certain guards on farm field equipment including tractors), and health and safety standards for agricultural employees (such as Washington’s code regulating issues including field sanitation, pesticides, respiratory hazards, and hearing loss prevention)