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July 17, 2012

Rep. Steve King Attempts to Slash Protections for Animals, Workers, and the Environment

Iowa Congressman Steve King thinks it’s fine to spend taxpayer money doling out billions to corporate farmers in the way of direct payments, crop insurance, predator control programs, and other subsidies. He’s built a reputation on it.

Hens in battery cages at Kreider Farms during an HSUS egg investigation
The HSUS
King's proposal threatens state laws such as bans on
cramped cages and crates for farm animals.

He’s also spent his 10-year Congressional career attempting to thwart the advance of any and all animal welfare laws at the federal level. He’s in favor of killing horses for human consumption, killing American bison in Yellowstone National Park, and trophy killing of polar bears, even though they are an endangered species. And no one has tried to stand in the way of cracking down on dogfighting and cockfighting more than Rep. King. In fact, just last week, he spoke against and voted against the McGovern amendment to make it a crime for an adult to bring a child to a dogfight. He was even one of a handful of lawmakers to oppose legislation that seeks to include pets in disaster planning.

The good news is, Rep. King usually loses his crusades against animal welfare.

But last Wednesday, during the House Agriculture Committee’s consideration of the 2012 farm bill (H.R. 6083), he was able to pass an amendment he offered, though his proposal still has a long way to go before it’s enacted.

King’s amendment is an attempt to prevent any state or local laws that place “a condition or standard on the production or manufacture of any agriculture product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce.”

His proposal, which tramples states’ rights and the 10th amendment, is designed to nullify all of the voter-approved ballot measures to protect farm animals, including Prop 2 in California, which was approved by 64 percent of voters in November 2008. In submitting it, Rep. King wants to negate more than a dozen or so other state laws that seek to allow animals in extreme confinement to move or to stop the abuse of downer cows, and nix another dozen or so laws against horse slaughter and shark finning. But that’s just the beginning. The King amendment could also wipe away hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other local and state laws related to animal welfare, worker safety, food safety, and protection of the environment.

Other laws that could be repealed by the King language, were it to be enacted, include:

  • Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington laws requiring labeling of farm-raised fish;
  • Maryland’s ban on arsenic in poultry feed;
  • state pollution standards, such as bans on spraying sewage on crops directly before they are fed to people;
  • bans on use of dangerous pesticides on crops, such as California’s ban on methyl iodide use for strawberries;
  • Iowa’s requirement for labeling of artificial sweeteners in products; and
  • 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).

Americans need to rise up and make sure that not one comma in King’s amendment makes it into the final farm bill. It is utterly unworthy of a nation built upon republican principles of government.

King’s gambit notwithstanding, there is actually an important issue relating to state and federal authority that does have a place in the farm bill. That’s the legislation (H.R. 3798 and S. 3239)―agreed to by The HSUS and the United Egg Producers―that would set up a national standard applying to all 280 million laying hens to give them more space and to set up a national labeling program for eggs in the marketplace.

Horse transport to slaughter
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
King's proposal could also nullify state bans on
horse slaughter.

When you have a strong national law, there’s no need for varying state standards.

But when you have no state laws and no federal laws applying to agriculture–which is what Rep. King wants–then you have no safeguards for animals, for the environment, for consumers, or for farmers. You have a free-for-all, a race to the bottom.

We are a nation that pays attention to commerce and economic activity. But not at the expense of our values. American enterprise is grounded on the notion of economic success, but it must be done in a way that honors our values. Protecting animals from cruelty, making sure our environment is not contaminated with deadly pesticides, and ensuring that farm workers aren’t turned into modern-day slaves are things that matter to Americans.

Rep. King wants your federal dollars to give to corporate agriculture. But he doesn’t want state or federal laws to help animals, or other vulnerable segments of society.

He talks states’ right when it suits his political end game. But when it’s not convenient, he’s prepared to use federal authority to nullify any state laws he doesn’t like.

Let’s make sure he doesn’t achieve his policy objectives. And let’s make sure there are protections put into federal law that relate to the egg industry–a plan that has won the support of the industry, of veterinarians, major animal welfare groups, and consumer groups.

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