This year has already been historic for animals, as the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of upholding the strongest farm animal protection law in the country, California’s Proposition 12. This landmark law, approved by voters via ballot measure in 2018, prohibits the in-state production and sale of products produced via the extreme confinement of mother pigs, egg-laying chickens and calves used for veal.
One would think this would be the final word on the matter, and that voters can determine that a product is too cruel or unsafe to be sold where they live. Yet despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, some members of the pork industry who fought Proposition 12 have returned to another tactic, pushing for federal legislation to undo not just Proposition 12, but potentially any state sales regulation addressing animal welfare or a host of other agricultural issues that states have traditionally regulated.
The “Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act” would jeopardize hundreds of state and local laws. The EATS Act is virtually identical to the discredited King amendment, which former Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, tried unsuccessfully to attach to the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills to block states from passing laws related to the sale of agricultural products within their own borders. His gambit generated overwhelming bipartisan opposition.
In response to public demand and humane advocacy campaigns, 14 states have passed laws requiring animal welfare, food safety and public health standards for the in-state production and/or sale of products from mother pigs, egg-laying hens and calves used for veal. The goal of the EATS Act is to undermine these popular sales standards, flouting the will of the increasingly humane-minded American public. Recent polling from the respected polling firm Data for Progress found that 80% of U.S. voters favor a law within their state like Proposition 12, including roughly equal percentages of Republicans and Democrats. States with laws prohibiting one or more forms of extreme confinement span the political spectrum of red states, blue states, and purple states.
The EATS Act not only jeopardizes laws that prohibit the sale of farm animal products from cruel systems but could effectively strip all states of their right to regulate any agricultural products sold within their own borders. It would force a lowest-common-denominator approach: If any one state permits the production or sale of a particular agricultural product, no matter how hazardous the product, or dangerous, immoral or unacceptable the production process, every other state could have to do so as well. This could also negate laws not only on farm animal confinement, but on puppy mills, fur, wildlife trafficking, chemicals in baby food, pesticides, pollutants and emission standards, arsenic in animal feed, opioids, child labor and a host of other concerns.
Those industry executives who feel their trade is being “suppressed” (as the EATS Act’s name suggests) by laws like those regulating hazardous ingredients in food and using child labor might do well to remember that a free-market economy does not bestow upon any party or interest the unmitigated freedom to force immoral or unsafe products upon the public while ignoring voters’ reasonable concern for animals, public health, the environment, children and future generations. You can help fight this reckless and unjust proposal by telling your federal legislators to oppose inclusion of the EATS Act or anything like it in the Farm Bill. This is a dangerous challenge to the high standards of welfare we support for farm animals, and we’ll meet it with everything we’ve got.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.