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January 28, 2014

Farm Bill Plows Under King Amendment

On top of major gains in Congress in recent weeks to get government-owned chimps out of labs and to prevent the resumption of commercial horse slaughter on U.S. soil, we are poised to see a major upgrade of the federal law against animal fighting and to kill off the destructive amendment from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to nullify a host of animal welfare laws.

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A dog rescued from dogfighting.
Photo by Kathy Milani/HSUS

We’re likely to have a powerful new weapon in our war against organized dogfighting and cockfighting operations with approval by a House-Senate conference committee of a final Farm Bill package. Last night, after months of tense negotiations, the conference committee sent the gargantuan bill to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote, and that package includes an HSUS-backed animal fighting measure.  That provision will create two new federal crimes: attending any animal fighting spectacle or bringing a child under 16 to such an event.  We worked with our allies in Congress to introduce this legislation three years ago – and with Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-IL, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., Rep. Tom Marino, R-PA, and others to get it added to the Farm Bill – to give law enforcement additional tools to round up the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting.                                                                                                             

The bigger news though related to the Farm Bill is that the conference committee nixed the “King amendment,” which was originally folded into the House Farm Bill during committee.  Authored by long-time anti-animal welfare politician Steve King, the amendment had the potential to negate most state and local laws on the production or manufacture of agriculture products. King aimed to nix state laws protecting farm animals, but the measure was so broadly written that it could have preempted laws covering everything from child labor to dangerous pesticides to labeling of farm-raised fish and standards for fire-safe cigarettes. A broad coalition of groups and individuals opposed the King amendment, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, County Executives of America, Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Mississippi and Arkansas Attorneys General, Iowa Farmers Union, Safe Food Coalition, and professors from 13 law schools (see full list of more than 500 organizations, newspapers, officials, and others who publicly stated their opposition).

The HSUS and HSLF express their thanks to the conference committee members, especially Chairwoman Stabenow and Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Rep. Jim Costa, D-CA, who led the effort to keep the King amendment out of the final package, and also to the bipartisan group of 23 Senators and 169 Representatives—led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. John Campbell, R-Calif., Schrader, and Gary Peters, D-Mich.—who wrote to the conference committee leaders opposing the King amendment.

Although we’re disappointed the final Farm Bill didn’t include important reforms curbing agribusiness subsidies to large-scale factory farms, we are pleased that the conference report preserved Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) of meat products and the GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration) rule, given that we support labeling and competition provisions to give small farmers a fair chance to make it in the marketplace. 

Because the Farm Bill nixed the King amendment and did not nullify COOL and GIPSA provisions, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and other meat lobby trade groups announced they will oppose the Farm Bill.  They didn’t get their way in seeking a repeal of animal protection laws and denying the public the right to know what country their food came from, so they want to dump the entire bill (despite the taxpayer largess they’ll enjoy if it passes).

We are disappointed that the Farm Bill did not include a landmark agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers to provide better living conditions for laying hens, but we’ll now redouble our efforts in Congress to get that measure passed through different legislative avenues.

In the meantime, we’ll be urging lawmakers to pass the Farm Bill, driving a stake into the heart of the King amendment and fortifying our nation’s commitment to rooting out dogfighting and cockfighting crimes.

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