TOPEKA — Independent cattle ranchers as well as family dairy and poultry farmers joined animal rights groups in opposition of legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas to block states and local jurisdictions from regulating production and distribution of agricultural products.
Marshall and Iowa U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, both Republicans and part of a coalition of lawmakers from major farm states, have taken the lead promoting the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act, otherwise known as EATS. It would establish federal law nullifying state or local statutes and regulations on animal welfare, public health and food safety capable of influencing agriculture practices nationwide.
Comparable legislation failed to gain congressional traction during the past decade, but momentum recently emerged after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld constitutionality of a California ballot measure to prohibit in that state the raising and selling of pork products sourced from hogs subjected to extreme confinement conditions.
Critics of that 5-4 court decision in May in National Pork Producers Council v. Ross said changes implemented in the massive California economy would unfairly influence agriculture practices across the country.
“Congress must act pursuant to its enumerated constitutional authority to ensure commerce between states involving agricultural products can continue uninterrupted,” said Shawn Tiffany, president of the Kansas Livestock Association. “Beef, dairy and pork producers in Kansas should not be forced to accommodate a patchwork of radical, unscientific state and local standards of production.”
‘A crying shame’
Opponents of the federal legislation said Marshall’s campaign amounted to a massive federal government overreach that could cripple states’ rights and ravage local control while creating an opening for international corporations to squeeze out smaller U.S. producers.
The Organization for Competitive Markets, a Nebraska-based advocacy organization opposed to corporate consolidation of the U.S. food and agricultural sectors, denounced EATS. OCM argued deregulation would enable conglomerates to sidestep policies enacted for benefit of family farmers. If EATS stripped away those guardrails, OCM says, Chinese companies would pose a greater threat to U.S. farming sovereignty.
“It’s a crying shame to see my senator, Roger Marshall, leading this assault on producers and states’ rights,” said Mike Schultz, founder of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association and OCM’s senior vice president.
He said EATS was a “Trojan Horse designed to put family farmers out of business and give multinational conglomerates like JBS and Chinese-owned Smithfield an even greater advantage than they already have.”
Kitty Block, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, said bipartisan opposition kept origins of EATS out of the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills. Block urged people to lobby federal officials to maintain that posture as the new Farm Bill took shape this fall.
“The EATS Act presents a shocking threat to animals, consumers, workers, the environment and states’ rights,” Block said. “Designed to wipe out state laws that ban the cruel immobilizing confinement of egg-laying hens, mother pigs and baby veal calves, it defies the common values consumers expect the food industry to uphold.”
The animal welfare organization also raised the prospect of EATS damaging protections against abusive puppy mills, the slaughtering animals in the fur trade and painful procedures tied to the cosmetic industry. Efforts to manage application of pesticides, protect against lead poisoning or arsenic in food and pollution from disposing of animal sewage could be threatened, the organization said.
Matter of states’ rights
Marshall and other federal lawmakers backing the bill view the conflict differently, arguing EATS would preserve the right of state and local governments to shield their jurisdictions from destabilizing agriculture regulations not of their making. The Kansas senator compared the influence of California’s ballot measure to protectionist countries imposing trade barriers on U.S. pork, beef and grain exports.
“The last thing we need is a big state like California imposing its will on ag-heavy states like Kansas with regulations that will also restrict our ability to trade among the states,” Marshall said. “This is a matter of states’ rights. If California wants to regulate agriculture in its own state, that’s fine, but California’s rules should not apply to Kansas.”
Hinson, the Iowa GOP lawmaker pressing for passage of the measure in the House, said Proposition 12 allowed “liberal lawmakers and radical activists in California, who don’t know the first thing about farming or raising animals, to regulate how farmers do their job, devastating small family farms and undermining food security.”
In 2018, California voters approved Proposition 12 by a margin of 63% to 37%. It would prohibit in-state production and marketing of pork raised with sows locked in narrow metal gestation crates akin to a bathtub. Under the new standard, pork producers would have to provide hogs big enough confined spaces to lie down, stand up and turn around. It also would require more living space for calves raised for veal and chickens laying eggs.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture said a court order suspending Proposition 12 enforcement would expire July 1. The agency said it would work with the agriculture industry to “discuss what is needed to achieve a smooth transition to compliance” with the animal care standards.
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