By: Will Coggin
Newspaper: Bakersfield Californian
The Californian recently editorialized against a farm bill amendment from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that is meant to stop one state from interfering in interstate farm commerce (“Pass the farm bill, but without this harmful amendment,” June 7). Despite the doomsday claims from animal liberation groups that the amendment would “potentially” nullify a broad swath of animal welfare or labor laws, it is actually quite limited in its scope.
California voters unwisely passed Prop 2 in 2008 to dictate housing requirements for egg-laying hens—despite the warnings of agricultural economists at UC-Davis that the measure would put state egg farmers out of business. State lawmakers quickly found themselves in a bind. Prop 2 only applied to in-state egg producers. So the state passed a law two years later, AB 1437, applying Prop 2 regulations to anybody wanting to sell eggs that were from out of state.
Essentially, California is trying to tell egg farms in the other 49 states how to house their hens.
King’s amendment would not nullify Prop 2, since the law applies only to in-state producers. But only Congress, not the states, is empowered to regulate interstate commerce. Consider a similar case last year. A federal judge blocked California’s low-carbon fuel standards from taking effect because the law unconstitutionally tried to regulate activities occurring completely outside of the state, such as producers’ choices of farming methods.
Consider the outcry if states could interfere with commerce at will. Imagine if Florida passed a law against California orange growers or if Vermont and Wisconsin started an economic war over cheddar cheese. It would be madness.
Compounding the problem is that it is unclear just what Prop 2 requires. The vegan Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Prop 2’s main backer, says that it bans all hen cages. HSUS has also said, on a different occasion, that 200 square inches per bird is acceptable. Meanwhile, a UC-Davis poultry expert has put the figure at 90 square inches, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture has said 116 square inches will meet Prop 2’s requirements.
If you’re a California egg farmer, you have no idea what to invest in, and 2015, when the law takes effect, is right around the corner. And it wouldn’t be surprising to see HSUS engage in court challenges to try to keep the drama it created going on even longer.
The Bakersfield Californian rightly noted in its editorial against Proposition 2 that it would drive producers out of state. And in fact, the agenda of the Humane Society of the United States is to put animal agriculture out of business. The group is so extreme and out-of-touch that its food policy director has compared egg farms to Nazi concentration camps. (And if you see its weepy TV ads featuring dogs and cats, money raised funds this anti-farmer agenda—only 1 percent goes to pet shelters.)
Unfortunately, Californians did not understand the real agenda at work behind Prop 2. But while voters do have the right to pass state initiatives that harm state businesses, California doesn’t have the right to impose those regulations on other states.
Since passage of federal hen-housing regulations has once again stalled, that means Californians may have to reap what they sowed if egg farmers pack up for greener pastures in Nevada, Idaho, and other states. Instead of pointing the finger at an amendment from a Congressman from Iowa, voters should consider undoing what they’ve wrought.