The Farm Bill’s Barnyard BrawlWed, 21 Aug 2013 18:36:59 CDT
The following is an editorial by Will Coggin, a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.
The jostling over food stamps and commodity subsidies may be the crux of the Farm Bill news, but there’s a battle brewing beneath the surface. The National Conference of State Legislatures has recently shown concern, at the urging of animal liberation groups, over an amendment by Iowa Congressman Steve King that is aimed at stopping California’s interference in interstate commerce in agriculture. Opponents claim that scores of state laws will be at risk of nullification.
Far from the sky falling, if King’s amendment isn’t passed, it could encourage trade wars between states, and the average consumer’s grocery list would take a hit.
King’s amendment prevents a state from imposing additional regulations on any agricultural product that is produced elsewhere, unless the other state has the same regulation. The proposal comes after an animal-rights ballot campaign in California that banned the common hen housing used on state egg farms. The initiative was heavily funded by the vegan Humane Society of the United States. University of California-Davis researchers determined that it if passed would bankrupt the state egg industry.
Not to fear, the California legislature had a solution to saving state egg farms from animal-rights activists: Force any out-of-state farmer who wants to sell eggs in California to also abide by these same standards. This economic protectionism is what King seeks to derail.
More broadly, what this episode also illustrates is that any activist group can push a state ballot initiative in California in hopes of using it as a springboard to force a law that they could never get passed in Congress or any of the other 49 states. And when it comes to ballot campaigns, emotional arguments and money, not nuance and reason, often rule the day.
Given California’s history, that’s something the rest of us should worry about. Voters there passed a chemical “right to know” law in 1986, for instance, that has since caused a warning notice to be slapped on everything from parking lots to fishing rods to Christmas lights. (The “warning label” law can be enforced by bounty-hunter lawyers, who reap fees.)
Activists opposed to King’s interstate commerce protection have tried to create a distraction, saying his amendment could bring down laws regulating agriculture. But agriculture, including food safety, is already heavily regulated at the federal level by the USDA, FDA, and others.
Ironically, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which started this commerce kerfuffle, argues that King’s amendment infringes upon states’ rights, while the group simultaneously pushes its own amendment to the Farm Bill that would preempt hen-housing standards in every state in the U.S. It sounds reasonable—it would get rid of the patchwork of state laws that HSUS itself created—but is actually a Trojan horse.
The “egg bill” would force farmers into billions of dollars of renovations or new construction, which would force smaller farmers with less access to capital out of business. It would also raise the cost of eggs for consumers. All of this is fine with the vegan Humane Society, of course, which wants to reduce demand for animal products by raising costs. (In France, farmers are literally dumping eggs on the street in protest over the scrambled market that has resulted from animal-rights-backed legislation.)
If King’s amendment isn’t passed, it could invite states to start passing a slew of protectionist laws under the guise of “food safety” or “public health.” Vermont’s cheddar cheese producers could try to take swipes at New York and Wisconsin, while Florida orange growers could try to hassle California’s. Unfortunately, these illusory safety claims would likely have to be taken to court by the affected out-of-state producers—hardly an appetizing thought for a food producer already trying to make ends meet. Moreover, protection rackets will inevitably raise costs at the supermarket as competition is stifled.
The best way forward is to protect interstate commerce with the enactment of King’s amendment. It’ll help consumers, and it’ll stop activists who think that they can manipulate California’s ballot box into regulations affecting consumers in the other 49 states.
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