The House Agriculture Committee has adopted an amendment to the 2012 Farm bill which impedes states from imposing their own standards on imported agriculture products. The Amendment was introduced by Rep. Steven King, R-Iowa, who acknowledges that he proposed the amendment in response to a California law banning eggs from hens living in inhumane conditions. The law regulating the confinement of animals was passed as proposition 2 on the 2008 California ballot, then expanded to apply to all eggs sold in the state in 2010, and it is due to be implemented in 2015. The law requires that hens have cages at least large enough for them to spread their wings.
The King amendment does not only threaten California’s law regarding hens and egg production, but also the state’s recently implemented foie gras ban, and potentially any other regulation regarding imported agriculture products in any state. Proponents of the amendment claim that it enforces the Commerce Clause of the constitution by asserting states’ right to trade agriculture products and the federal government’s jurisdiction over interstate commerce. However, the language of the amendment would likely disable states from requiring any sort of production standard on any imported agriculture products. The Amendment asserts that “the government of a state or locality therein shall not impose a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce.” If implemented into law, this would in effect nullify any state’s effort to set requirements for out of state agriculture products, including both of California’s already passed laws regarding eggs and foie gras.
Rep. Steven King’s state, Iowa, currently has no guidelines for the treatment of hens in egg production. It also happens to be the number one egg producer in the country, according to the USDA. In 2010 an Iowa egg producing company called Wright County Egg, was linked to a salmonella outbreak which lead to 1,939 reported illnesses. California’s standards for animal confinement were intended to insure a more humane environment for animals as well as a decreased likelihood of contamination and disease outbreak. Salmonella outbreaks have been directly linked to animals’ living conditions. Under current standards in farms such as those belonging to Wright County Egg in Iowa, hens are cramped in rows with little to no room for movement. This amounts to cruel and inhumane treatment as well as vulnerability to salmonella.
Public health advocates and animal welfare organizations have condemned the adoption of Rep. Steven King’s amendment and expressed support for California’s efforts. The Environmental working group issued a statement regarding the recent move by the House Agriculture Committee saying that “it made a bad bill worse by restricting the ability of states to set standards for food and farm production…” The Humane Society of the United States has spoken out against the amendment and is currently carrying out an initiative to garner support for the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments in Congress and Senate which are based on the California standards for hens’ living conditions and require bigger cages at egg farms.