Writing on the op-ed page of the Baltimore Sun, two members of the Maryland General Assembly chastise Collin Peterson, ranking Democrat on the House Ag Commitee, for remarks made while he was helping Iowa Congressman Steve King craft the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, now an amendment in the House version of the Farm Bill.
They're not alone in the criticism of the Blue Dog. Minnesota Representatives Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Rick Nolan have joined 163 other House members in signing letters opposing the amendment, which would restrict states' ability to regulate the sale of ag products produced in other states, regardless of laws that were passed within their own borders.
"This crap": state laws regulating agricultural production
The Maryland legislators, Delegate Tom Hucker and Senator Jennie M Forehand, who chaired Assembly's Joint Committee on Federal Relations, write in Don't let Congress trample Maryland's rights: Pernicious Farm Bill amendment would strip Maryland's ability to impose tougher rules for agricultural products:
When Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, ranking member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, helped Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa craft an amendment to the Farm Bill that would nullify dozens — if not hundreds — of state laws, this was his explanation, clear and simple: "I'm tired of these states doing this crap." And apparently a narrow majority of the House of Representatives agrees, since this amendment was included in the pared-down version of the Farm Bill that passed the House, 216-208.
The blunt statement from Peterson is for real. In May, Greenwire reported in House, Senate panels to mark up farm bills:
One amendment that was not included, however, was one by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would prohibit states from banning agricultural goods from other states that are produced under different production methods. The amendment was meant to stop states, especially California, from enacting laws requiring free-range eggs and pork that would affect agricultural production in other states because of cross-border commerce.
The measure has pitted livestock industry groups against animal rights and environmental groups against industrial-scale farming.
Peterson said he wasn't sure that proposal would get enough votes, but he said he has been helping King write it.
"After going through this and being lobbied by all these egg people and every other damn thing going on, I think it's the best solution myself," Peterson said. "I'm tired of these states doing this crap."
The Maryland lawmakers spell out additional details in their column today:
What Mr. Peterson so crudely referred to were state laws that safeguard public health, food safety, animal welfare and the environment. It potentially includes a whole host of state legislation including laws addressing the intensive confinement of farm animals, requiring labeling of farm-raised fish, banning BPA in baby food jars, banning the sale of raw milk, and (recently passed in Maryland) banning arsenic in chicken feed. These state laws are just the tip of the iceberg for Reps. Peterson and King, whose poorly drafted, overreaching amendment flies in the face of states' rights and the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
As co-chairs of the Maryland Joint Committee on Federal Relations, we are stunned. When issues of public health and safety are concerned, a state should be able to protect its citizens as it sees fit — including by going beyond federal protections when necessary. Federal health and safety protections should always be considered a floor, not a ceiling. We were pleased to see that the National Conference of State Legislatures agrees, sending a letter recently to leaders in Congress urging removal of the King Amendment.
The King Amendment prohibits states from imposing conditions on the production of any agricultural product sold in the state if the production occurs in another state, and if the condition is in addition to federal standards or standards of the state in which production occurs. Take a minute to process the enormity of that proposal. This would force states to allow commerce in products they have banned — no matter how dangerous, unethical or environmentally destructive. It would prohibit states from setting standards for products sold within their boundaries. Questionable agricultural products allowed in Mississippi or Texas would have to be sold to Marylanders and Virginians, even over the objections of their own elected lawmakers. It is the lowest-common-denominator approach to policymaking, and puts all states at the mercy of one or a handful of states. This is a radical assault on the states.
While the provision ostensibly seeks to target state animal welfare laws, it is so broad and vague that it could be interpreted to nullify an entire spectrum of state laws dealing with food safety, labeling, labor, and environmental protection. It could trigger expensive court cases about any state law related to agricultural products, from the sale of raw milk, to the labeling of farm-raised fish or artificial sweeteners, to restrictions on firewood transported into a state in order to protect against invasive pests and damage to local forests. . . .
The last concern in that list is cited in a letter sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Ag committees by the president and president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislators:
We are writing to express our opposition to section 11312 of H.R. 2642, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, also known as the “King Amendment,” that would preempt vital state agricultural policies designed to protect the safety and well being of our farmland, waterways, forests and most importantly, our constituents.
The Tenth Amendment is the cornerstone of constitutional federalism and reserves broad powers to the states and to the people. States have used this sovereignty to enact laws that protect their citizens from invasive pests and livestock diseases, maintain quality standards for all agricultural products and ensure food safety and unadulterated seed products. The King Amendment, not only violates the tenets of the Tenth Amendment, but would also have significant economic effects across the states.
Below are just a few examples of state laws that would be preempted by the King Amendment: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin place restrictions on firewood imported from ther states in order to protect their forests from invasive pests.
Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Washington have enacted regulations requiring the labeling of farm-raised fish.
Iowa requires the labeling of artificial sweeteners in products while New Hampshire has enacted certain specifications regarding the production of maple products.
The King amendment would target these and other 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.
As you move towards a conference on the 2013 Farm bill, we urge you to reject section 11312 of H.R. 2642, Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. . .
With emerald ash borers poised to make their way through the county-wide quarantine in Superior and across the bridge into Duluth, as Minnesota Public Radio reported mid-month in Duluth prepares for emerald ash borer, regulation on interstate firewood sales isn't an abstract concern.
More than just animal welfare concerns
While the amendment has been framed in terms of laws governing animal husbandry, Swampland's Nicole Greenstein points out in King Farm Bill Amendment Angers Animal Advocates:
King’s amendment wouldn’t just affect chickens. The measure is designed to prevent states from applying their own standards for “any agricultural product” to those made in other states. Federal law defines an agricultural product broadly. The term encompasses a wide swath of products such as such as livestock, poultry, dairy and plants, and “any and all products raised or produced on farms and any processed or manufactured product thereof.” This language could apply not only to animal confinement, but also to state laws on horse slaughter as well as other food safety and environmental requirements.
It's unlike that Peterson's embrace of King on this issue will make any impact on the 2014 race in the Republican-leaning Minnesota CD7, since rural Republicans have been making a lot of noise about loving farmers and hating laws dictating the manner in which livestock is raised.
Would the party's other affection--for the Tenth Amendment, often cited in plans to end Obamacare--trump that allegiance, especially if it allowed a toehold against Peterson? Or will Republican fondness for our neighbor in Iowa simply take this assault on states' rights off the table?
Photo Collin Peterson, Reuters file photo (above); Steve King, via CQ (below).
The Colbert Report looked at the animal welfare issues in the amendment back in June:
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