Top Iowa state officials are asking Sen. Tom Harkin to support a provision by Iowa Rep. Steve King meant to protect Iowa's egg industry.
Gov. Terry Branstad and state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, both Republicans, sent the letter to Harkin and member of the press on Tuesday. Harkin, a Democrat, is a conferee in negotiations on the farm bill, as is King, who is a Republican.
King's provision, which is part of the House version of the farm bill, would prevent states from banning agricultural products from other states that have been approved by USDA or FDA. California has a law that would restrict the import of eggs in 2015 from states that don't meet the same level of cage space as California. Iowa is the nation's largest egg-laying state.
Branstad and Northey wrote, "Supporting the King amendment will prevent a few large states like California and New York from dictating the modes of agricultural production in Iowa and other states."
States could still set restrictions on agricultural operations within their own states, but King's provision would ensure states don't restrict the sale of goods from other states.
"There are already federal, state and local food safety laws to protect consumers and opposition to the King amendment in all practicality would mean California and a few other big states could dictate how family farmers and agricultural producers all across the country have to produce their products. The amendment would not prevent states from imposing future food safety requirements and merely clarifies that a state cannot prohibit the import of a product from another state based solely on that product’s means of production. If a state so chose, it could enact labeling requirements for various modes of production."
The Iowa officials said food prices could increase "that would disproportionately impact low income families." The letter cites how similar provisions to California's cage restrictions were implemented in Europe in 2012. That caused a decline in the egg supply for parts of Europe. "According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal on April 4, 2012, the average price of 10 eggs in the Czech Republic more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, and consumers on average across the entire EU were forced to pay 76.5% more per egg in 2012 than they paid in 2011. EU restrictions have had a very negative impact on the availability of eggs to the average consumer," the Iowa officials wrote.
That is correct, however, the story continues in Europe. Farmers reacted quick enough to the demand for changes in cage sizes that the price of eggs fell dramatically in 2013 due to overproduction. French farmers protected in August by dumping egg supplies in protest.
Still, in their letter Branstad and Northey noted state and national farm organizations back the King amendment.
"In short, we believe Iowa farmers can make better decisions for their operation than Sacramento bureaucrats and animal rights activists. We also encourage you to support the King amendment to prevent significant increases in food prices and a trade war among the states. If the King amendment is not included in the Farm Bill, we are very concerned the conversation will quickly move beyond how chickens are produced in Iowa or Arkansas to how milk is produced in Wisconsin or Vermont or to how corn and soybeans are grown in the Midwest. We appreciate your time and consideration."
Last month, Northey also criticized U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, because Vilsack had said the King provision would create problems legally and in the marketplace.
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