Until conferees make a final decision on the 2013 Farm Bill, the Humane Society of the United States is keeping its thumb on an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King that it claims would "nullify state agricultural laws."
The Republican from Iowa offered the amendment, known as the Protect Interstate Commerce Amendment, for inclusion in the House farm bill last year, and again this summer. Approved by voice vote in committee, the amendment could prevent states from enacting laws that place conditions on how agricultural goods are raised or grown within the state's borders for sale in other states.
That could be especially important for California's egg industry, which abides by California laws that require that all egg-laying hens be housed in larger cages by 2015. The state's laws further require that all eggs sold in the state must be produced by farms that adhere to California's cage standards.
If the provision is included in the farm bill, however, California's ability to regulate what condition eggs sold in the state are produced under could be limited.
In a Nov. 12 interview with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, King explains that the provision is a way to clarify and restore the commerce clause of the Constitution. Using California's laws as an example, he notes that allowing states to mandate certain conditions for out-of-state production has a ripple effect.
"California's free to regulate producers, to over-regulate them, but no state should have the authority to regulate the other 49 states," King says.
Aside from the egg industry, other special interest groups have raised concerns about the production and regulation of tobacco products, labeling of farm-grown fish and the sale of raw milk, all of which could be affected if the provision is approved in the 2013 farm bill.
However, the amendment's largest opponent, the Humane Society of the United States, remains centered on concerns of animal welfare.
In a "fact sheet" posted Nov. 8, HSUS says the King amendment could reverse animal welfare laws in several states. Cited examples include horse slaughter bans, foie gras production and shark fin commerce.
HSUS' lobbying arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, has reportedly unleashed a $100,000 online ad campaign to ensure the amendment is not included in the final farm bill, according to a Nov. 5 report from political news outlet The Hill.
An uphill battle?
Regardless of online ads and special interest lobbying, it could be a lengthy battle to get the amendment into the final farm bill. Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., remains a known opponent. And, a similar amendment is not included in the Senate version.
Still, King, a farm bill conferee himself, defends the elements of the amendment, citing ulterior motives from what he calls the "vegan lobby."
"Their agenda is to take animal products out of our diet, meat off of our plate," King says. "Don't be trying to take away my meat, my milk, my eggs, my cheese – that is what they're trying to do – raise the cost of production so they can reduce the consumption and turn us all into vegans. But we should all understand their agenda."
King also says his amendment does not affect animal welfare, like the HSUS lobby might suggest, and instead makes sure producers are in control of livestock care.
"The best people to manage our livestock are the ones that have a vested interest in it," King says. "That's why I want to leave it in the hands of our producers and my amendment preserves and protects the right of our producers to take care of their livestock as they see fit."