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May 13, 2013

Tenn. Ag-Gag Bill Vetoed – But King Amendment Looms in Congress

NEWS ALERT: This morning, Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee vetoed the legislature’s proposed ag-gag bill, squelching the only state anti-whistleblower measure that made it to a governor’s desk this year. See our full statement on this major outcome for our cause – preserving our right to conduct investigations and to document animal cruelty.

Now comes another sweeping, menacing attack against our movement – this time in Congress. An Iowa congressman wants to force a vote to repeal the rights of citizens to regulate how their food is produced. The traditional responsibilities of state legislators to establish laws governing food safety, animal husbandry and worker protections would be eliminated, wiped from the books – in both existing law and any future law. County and local ordinances? Eliminated.

Shocked? I am.

Chickens
iStockphoto

This is the work of Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. Typically, conservative Republicans like King vigorously defend states’ rights. But not, it seems, when they can serve special interests. In this instance, conservative values are tossed to the wind so that King and his allies can strong-arm the states aside. Yes, this is an almost unheard-of power grab, but it’s not a matter of King wanting the federal government to establish strong, uniform standards for agriculture. In fact, he’s dead-set against that too, as evidenced by his opposition to pending legislation establishing space requirements for laying hens and labeling standards for eggs (the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2013 - S. 820/H.R. 1731). No, in King’s world, weak or nonexistent standards would take the place of states’ rights – consumers and animals be damned.

You may have heard of the King amendment last year – when he advanced it as part of the 2012 Farm Bill. Well, the Farm Bill was sidetracked by election-year politics. But this year, Congress is likely to act and complete work on the bill. That means the King amendment is no longer a debating point, or a simple sop to the big ag lobby. It’s a threat to every consumer and to every animal in agriculture. The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to vote on it Wednesday. This same committee voted in favor of a virtually identical King amendment last time around.

King’s goal is to overturn every voter-approved animal welfare ballot measure relating to agriculture – Prop 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves, and laying hens), Prop 6 in California (forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption), Prop 204 in Arizona (banning veal and gestation crates), and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing gestation crates). The amendment could also nullify six other state bans on gestation crates, horse slaughter bans in a half-dozen other states, the comprehensive animal welfare standards adopted by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, and a raft of anti-downer laws and other animal protection laws designed to shield farm animals from abuse and extreme confinement.

But the reach of his amendment goes further. It seeks to nullify every state, county, or local law that creates any standard or condition relating to an agricultural production activity – so we’d have no state laws for agricultural facilities relating to worker rights, animal welfare, environmental protection, or public health. It’s hard to overstate how sweeping and far-reaching the King amendment is.

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. But he doesn’t want the agriculture community to have to abide by any rules related to food safety, animal welfare, or environmental protection. In his mind, the federal government is a bank for the farm lobby, and not a protector of society’s broader interests in a safe, humane, and sustainable food supply.

He’s also spent his 10-year congressional career attempting to block any and all animal welfare laws. He favors 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. He is the best friend that dogfighters and cockfighters have in Congress, trying to stop any law-and-order bill to make life tougher on these criminals. And get this: he was even one of a handful of lawmakers to oppose legislation that seeks to include pets in disaster planning.

We need level-headed members of Congress to stop this craziness now, before it becomes part of the billions of dollars in horse trading that any new Farm Bill produces. Contact your representative today and tell them to overthrow the King amendment.

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