The last farm bill was an epic disaster. Huge spending cuts to food stamp programs, no cuts to agricultural subsidies, and an amendment which would have superseded states rights to enact their own agricultural laws were all on the ballot.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, the King Amendment could have overruled current and restricted future state farming laws that differ from those handed down by the federal government including animal welfare regulations, labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), importation bans, and even puppy mills. We thought it died with the last version of the House farm bill -- unfortunately, it very well could come back from the dead.
The Humane Society of the United States and state legislators from the National Conference State Legislators held a press conference yesterday to warn the public of the ramifications of the vaguely written, draconian piece of legislation.
John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy, The Humane Society of the United States was joined at the conference by Sen. Kemp Hannon, R- NY, Sen. Bruce Starr R -Ore. who were attending the National Conference State Legislators.
Goodwin and the organization fear that the amendment will end up as part of the bill yet again as the House and Senate attempt to compromise. "If Congress does not pass a new bill by September 30, when the current bill expires, all Agriculture policies, everything, including crop insurance, would revert back to the way they were in 1949 or they will have to pass a one year extension," he said. "The House and Senate need to agree on a bill."
Recently, the National Conference State Legislators sent a letter to House and Senate committee leaders pressing them to pull the King amendment from the Farm Bill. Speaker of the House Terie Norelli, D-N.H., and Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Ore. -- president and president-elect, respectively -- assert that the amendment "would preempt vital state agricultural policies designed to protect the safety and well-being of our farmland, waterways, forests and most importantly, our constituents." Adding that it "would also have significant economic effects across the states" and would impact "state laws that were approved by state legislatures for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of consumers and the viability of our precious farmland and forests."
According to Goodwin, the bill's biggest problem is its vague wording. "It says that no state or local government can issue any law or condition on agricultural products. It could apply to bans on timber importation even when there are fears of invasive species being brought into sensitive ecosystems like Asian longhorn beetles. It could affect anything."
Many states have their own animal welfare laws ranging from safety standards for farm workers, rules on pesticide exposure, labeling of additives and potentially harmful ingredients in food, farm animal confinement, shark finning, horse and dog slaughter for human consumption, and puppy mills.
In Florida, the amendment could overturn pieces of legislation such as the 2002 ban on gestation crates -- the tiny metal crates which are so small they prevent breeding pigs from even turning around for the majority of their lives -- the honey standard, which prevents anything other than pure honey from being labeled as such, horse slaughter laws, and the GMO mandatory labeling bills that will be reintroduced in the next state legislative session. Florida does not have state laws pertaining to puppy mills.
"State agriculture laws were crafted by legislators, agencies and citizens who know their needs best and should not be overturned by politicians in Washington, D.C. The King amendment is a violation of the Tenth Amendment's guarantee that states' sovereign rights cannot be abridged by Congress."
Opposition letters have been drafted by House Democrats, Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich, with 151 members signing total; House Republican Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., with 15 signatures including Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. signed by 23 Senators one by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.
King and his supporters claim that having uniform agricultural laws across the country would make it easier for large-scale producers. No, really?
According the the Humane Society:
"Rep. King has a history of attempting to block animal welfare laws. He has voted in favor of killing horses for human consumption and trophy killing of polar bears even though they are a threatened species. He also voted against disaster response legislation to address the needs of people with pets, passed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and he opposed legislation to crack down on illegal dogfighting and cockfighting.
With a large segment of the population calling for less federal infringement upon state's rights and another considerable portion is working toward more progressive agricultural policy, this amendment couldn't be would be a major step back from both segment's goals.
To weigh-in on the debate, call your Senator, House Representative, or visit humanesociety/king.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.