The debate is mounting about using the EATS Act as a way to solve the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last spring on California's Proposition 12 and other state livestock handling laws.
In a letter Monday, 171 members of the House -- the majority of the Democratic caucus and five Republicans -- wrote a letter to the chair and ranking member opposing the "Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression" or EATS Act.
The bill, led by Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, has 30 House cosponsors, all Republicans, and critics of the Supreme Court ruling hope to tack it onto the farm bill as a way to curb states from setting several different standards for livestock handling practices - or other laws that could interfere with interstate commerce of agricultural products.
In a 5-4 ruling last May, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld California's Proposition 12, a measure passed by voters in the state in 2018. Prop 12 makes it a criminal offense and civil violation to sell whole pork meat in California unless the pig is born to a sow that was housed within 24 square feet of space and in conditions that allow a sow to turn around without touching an enclosure. Proposition 12 applies to any uncooked pork sold in the state, regardless of whether it was raised in California.
California officials are working to set rules for compliance and enforcement that would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Earlier this month, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., said at Farmfest in Minnesota that he would look at using the farm bill to respond to the Supreme Court decision.
In their letter, 171 House members on Monday wrote their "strong opposition" to adding the EATs Act, or similar legislation as part of the farm bill. Opponents, largely Democrats, stated "the EATS Act could harm America's small farmers, threaten numerous state laws, and infringe on the fundamental rights of states to establish laws and regulations within their own borders."
A major complaint from the pork industry is that Prop 12 and similar laws will force producers nationally to adopt standards for California. Then there might be standards from Massachusetts that are slightly different. Another state could pose similar but different rules.
In their letter, lawmakers pushed back on those criticisms, citing an amicus brief from pork industry economists that producers would only choose to comply with Prop 12 if they felt it was economically beneficial to do so. The letter also cited that Hormel, Perdue, Tyson and Smithfield have all indicated they can or will be ready to comply with Prop 12 standards to supply California.
"The EATS Act would undermine this progress and devalue the investments that farmers have already made to comply with Proposition 12 and similar laws," the lawmakers stated.
The lawmakers also added the EATS Act goes beyond the current issue with Prop 12 and could negate state and local laws even if there is no federal standard. There are already several laws in different states involving invasive pests, infectious diseases, food safety or seed standards that could also be negated by the EATS Act.
"We believe that Congress should not usurp the power of states to regulate food and agricultural products in a manner that is responsive to local contexts," the letter stated.
The letter was led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. Several Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee also joined the letter as well as other Republicans, Reps. Mike Garcia of California, Michael Lawler of New York, Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon, who sits on the House Ag Committee.
Also see, "California's Top Ag Official Says State Continues Work to Implement Prop 12," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
And "House Ag Chairman Looks to Address Prop 12 Ruling in Farm Bill,"
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @ChrisClaytonDTN
(c) Copyright 2023 DTN, LLC. All rights reserved.