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July 18, 2013

Turn Up the Heat

I know it’s plenty hot in these dog days of summer, but we need to turn up the heat even more in our fight to ensure that the King amendment isn’t part of a final Farm Bill or any other legislation that may end up containing Farm Bill provisions. The King amendment, which is part of the Farm Bill that narrowly passed the House last week in a highly partisan vote, threatens to supersede a wide swath of duly-enacted state laws addressing animal protection, as well as laws regarding other concerns like food safety, child labor, dangerous pesticides, labeling of products, and even restrictions on firewood transported into a state (which protects against invasive pests and damage to local forests). Now is the time to contact your two U.S. Senators and your U.S. Representative and urge them to bounce the King amendment from any final Farm Bill package considered by the House and Senate.

The threat posed by this shocking usurpation of state authority is bringing together a broad coalition of more than 50 groups – representing sustainable agriculture, consumer, environmental, animal welfare and other interests – all voicing opposition to the provision that Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, got into the House Farm Bill to wipe out state laws affecting agriculture production. The list includes major organizations such as the Consumer Federation of America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as smaller groups such as the Alabama State Association of Cooperatives and Illinois Citizens for Clean Air and Water.

270x240 white chickens istockRep. King claims his provision is narrow and only deals with interstate commerce, but the language is so vague and poorly worded, it could stop states from regulating in-state producers, as long as the agricultural commodity at issue is sold in interstate commerce, by someone. The exact answer to this question will only be determined after years of litigation and regulatory uncertainly – uncertainty that will stifle business and limit economic growth. And remember, this is the same Steve King that has fought federal policies to crack down on animal fighting, horse slaughter, the trade in primates as pets, and every other proposed federal policy to help animals. He doesn’t want state or federal laws to help animals. He wants no laws to protect animals!

It’s also important to keep in mind that farmers work in a national and global environment and they typically move their products in interstate commerce. Because almost all agricultural commerce involves interstate movement and sales, the King amendment would be a de facto nullification of state laws that impose some standards on agricultural production – from Prop 2 in California to Prop 204 in Arizona to Amendment 10 in Florida. The states have a critical role in agriculture policy and these rules and standards were approved by voters, or in other cases by state lawmakers and by rule-making.

Forcing states to allow commerce in products that violate state health and humane laws is about as heavy-handed as it gets. If any one state in the country allows the sale of horse meat or dog meat, every state would have to allow it. It’s the lowest common denominator approach to policymaking, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states.

Many Members of Congress like to say they are strong defenders of states’ rights. Now is the time for them to not only mouth the principle but to stand up and be counted on a pivotal matter of policy. The King amendment is an outrageous violation of the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the states’ sovereign rights cannot be abridged by Congress – it aims to eliminate states’ historic police powers within their borders and would destroy the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding. We need to make sure it doesn’t get swept into law and sweep away countless measures important to states and their citizens.

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