Ag Policy Blog

Breaking Eggs Over States Rights

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A provision in the House version of the farm bill that would restrict states' ability to block the sale of agricultural products from other states is creating some political infighting in Iowa.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, calls his provision the "Protect Interstate Commerce Act." It would effectively prevent states from blocking the sale of agricultural products from other states that have been approved by USDA or FDA.

King created the language last year in response to a California referendum from 2008 that bans cages for egg-laying hens. Following the referendum, California's legislature passed a law that also restricts the sale of eggs from other states coming into California to ensure they also come from cage-free hens. That law goes into effect in 2015 and would impact states such as Iowa.

"So California has passed a bad law and they want to impose that bad law on the rest of the country to protect their producers. That argument has substance, it just happens to be an unconstitutional law," King said in an interview with DTN off the House floor on Tuesday.

King added, "I don't think it's arguable that California should be able to regulate all the other states. Their next argument that they think has substance is they want the trade protectionism because they have a law in California, actually the referendum, that puts their producers in a position where they can't compete with the rest of the country."

Iowa has nearly 52 million egg-laying hens, nearly double the second-largest egg state, Ohio, which has 28 million layers. Indiana has 25.7 million; Pennsylvania has 23.8 million and California is fifth in the country with 18.9 million hens. According to the American Egg Board, those five states produce 50% of all the eggs consumed nationally.

During committee work in the bill, opponents questioned how far King's amendment could go, suggesting that dozens of other state laws and standards across the country would become null and void.

King said a lot of misinformation about the provision has been spread about the provision. At least one letter signed by 150 congressmen opposes King's provision.

The Humane Society of the United States has made it a top priority to kill the King provision. HSUS has an email campaign on its website specifically targeting it. HSUS President Wayne Pacelle said King is "taking aim at dozens of state laws that help animals."

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a Democrat and former governor of Iowa, weighed in last week, calling the King provision "a bit troublesome in that it would create legal challenges and confusion in the marketplace."

Vilsack's comments provoked a response Tuesday from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, a Republican. "It is very troublesome that Secretary Vilsack appears to be siding with California and HSUS rather than standing up for all farmers producing legal and safe agriculture products," Northey said. "If the Secretary truly has concerns about the King amendment, then he should work to address those concerns while the bill is in conference committee rather than speaking out against it.

“I would hope and expect Secretary Vilsack to be supportive of laws that ensure consumers have access to legal and safe products. USDA inspectors approve the sale of egg products. If eggs are safe to be sold in Iowa and around the country they should be able to be sold in California, that is all this amendment is trying to assure.

Northey added, “California should not be allowed to dictate production methods to the rest of the country. This has the makings of an internal U.S. trade war. If it starts with eggs, you can be sure it won't end with eggs.”

When asked about support for his provision in the farm-bill conference talks, King said, "Politics being unpredictable, it seems like it's boiling down to the states' rights argument, but for people who read the Constitution and the Commerce Clause, I don't think it's arguable."

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ron shepard
11/20/2013 | 8:28 AM CST
While not in favor of the 'King Amendment', It would make raw milk sales legal in all states among other things.