Who’s in charge of animal welfare?
A fascinating debate over standard-setting for animal agriculture plays out in D.C. as a farm bill amendment asserting federal control over production could negate California’s infamous Prop 2.
The House Agriculture Committee has just passed an amendment to the farm bill that would block states from imposing their own standards for agriculture products on producers from other states.
If the final bill passes as structured, it could negatea landmark California law—Prop 2—passed by a wide margin in November 2008by Golden State voters. The ballot measure was promoted and positioned by animal-rights groups as a measure that, among other regulations on livestock, forced the state’s egg producers to increase cage sizes so that laying hens could stand and spread their wings.
Opponents of the amendment, including the Humane Society of the United States, which lobbied heavily for Prop 2, warned that the amendment could jeopardize California’s recent ban on the production of foie gras, which took effect this month.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who represents the nation’s No. 1 egg-producing state, said he introduced the amendment because the California law “scrambles and creates a patchwork quilt of state regulations.”
“If California wants to regulate eggs that come into the state, fine,” King said. “But don’t be telling the states that are producing a product that’s already approved by the USDA or FDA how to produce that product.”
King said California requirement violates theCommerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce.
That’s where the dynamics of this debate get interesting.
Republicans such as King, of course, are the first in line to demand the primacy of state’s rights when it comes to causes they espouse, such as the repeal of Obamacare. On that issue, the party was united in insisting that the federal mandate in that law, which requires purchase of health insurance, was not only unconstitutional (on the basis of enumerated powers), but precluded a prerogative that should belong to that states. During the political whirlwind leading up the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act, the party’s leadership was united is calling the law an egregious overreach.
When it comes to measures the Republicans don’t like, however—such as California’s egg industry regulationsor its earlier imposition of tougher automobile emissions standards (signed into law by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar, by the way)—they embrace the argument that states have no business “scrambling” manufacturing regulations or production standards that might impact companies in other states.