History has a way of repeating itself, or so one might think after reviewing an amendment to new farm legislation presented by U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a member of the House Farm Bill Conference Committee.
The amendment paves the way for the federal government to do away with individual state (agricultural) laws that protect consumers, animals and agricultural workers, and would provide federal regulators the authority to change any state law regarding agriculture as it deems fit to change.
Opponents to the amendment charge that the last time such federally-imposed rules were adopted by Congress it created a riff between those supporting federalist ideals and those who argued for the protection of states' rights, eventually leading to a major conflict between states that divided the nation and ended in a conflict that forever scarred the history of a nation.
The amendment, supported by some, has drawn sharp criticism by a growing number of other groups and individual lawmakers. At best, the amendment, if adopted, degrades the ability of state leaders to make agricultural rules and guidelines without federal approval, and many are charging it violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that protects states' sovereign rights.
King, a member and supporter of the Tea Party, argues the amendment is needed to counter what he terms liberal-supported California legislation set to go into effect in 2015 that requires eggs sold in that state must come from farms that provide laying hens ample room to stand and stretch their wings, a measure initiated by pro-animal welfare supporters.
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But opponents point out that the amendment would also reverse state laws such as a rule requiring that only healthy cattle be shipped to a ranch, and state laws that require hay be free of foreign weed seeds before being delivered to customers inside the state. For Texas, even a state law that prohibits the slaughtering of horses would be subject to federal review and could be overturned, as well as an animal rights law that imposes rules for the protection of animals at puppy mills.
Also in Texas, laws that regulate wastewater permitting for concentrated animal feeding operations could be ruled invalid and in their place federal laws could be imposed and regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The amendment has drawn fire from a growing number of opponents. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the amendment could generate "multiple challenges because it would exempt out-of-state producers from meeting varying regulations of individual states where the products would be sold." Vilsack called the amendment “poorly drafted." He made the comments at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 95th Annual Convention in San Antonio last week.
Other objections to the amendment include opposition to provisions that would invalidate state and local animal protection laws concerning animal welfare; state food safety regulations, including labeling requirements; the prohibition of importing firewood infested by pests into the state, and the ability of the Texas Animal Health Commission to test incoming livestock for brucellosis and tuberculosis at state border inspection stations.
A coalition of more than 80 groups representing consumer, environmental and animal protection, sustainable agriculture and other interests oppose the amendment. That includes groups such as the National Conference of State Legislators, Association of County Executives, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Consumer Federation of America.
Even in King's home state of Iowa the amendment is drawing fire. The Des Moines Register newspaper and the Iowa Farmers Union have both stated their opposition to the amendment.
So far more than 180 members of Congress have expressed their opposition to the amendment. But it is up to the conference committee whether the amendment will move forward to both houses of Congress as part of the final farm bill.
Opponents to the amendment are urging farmers, ranchers and others with an interest in states' rights to contact their representatives and voice their opinion.