King amendment to House Farm Bill ignores consumer trends

Animal welfare is no longer a niche market. It is one of the top three most important issues for restaurant patrons-- outranking organics and buying local by wide margins. Approximately 70 percent of people are more confident in food sold from grocery stores that support and promote ethical farming practices, and sixty percent of shoppers say they are willing to pay more for food that is healthier, safer and produced using higher ethical standards.

Increasingly, states are introducing ballot initiatives and passing regulations that require higher animal welfare in food production.  Some states have also passed laws requiring all producers selling in the state to meet the same requirements.  King’s amendment, packaged as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), would protect out-of-state producers from having to meet the regulations of the state in which they are selling their products.

The possible effect of PICA is clear.  Consider California’s Prop 2, which provides farm animals the freedom to move around, lie down, stand up and extend their limbs.  Follow-up legislation requires all eggs sold in the state to meet that same production standard.  Under King’s amendment, California, as well as the nine other states with similar laws, would have to reduce their own standards as a requirement for agricultural trade across state borders.

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The King amendment ignores the rising trends that encourage producers to increase welfare standards. Consumers are looking for food that is produced using more humane methods. Unilever introduced their Amora brand cage-free mayonnaise in France, the market share rose by 5.2 percent and the volume per buyer increased 3.8 percent. Here in the United States, cage-free egg sales increased by a whopping 125 percent between 2004 and 2008. Organic eggs experienced a 66 percent increase between 2011 and 2012 alone.

Purchasing trends also shift as consumers become more knowledgeable about the issues. Using retail scanner data to determine how purchasing was affected leading up to the Prop 2 vote, agricultural economist Dr. Jayson Lusk found that cage-free and organic egg sales increased by 180 percent and 20 percent respectively, while the sale of less expensive, conventional eggs dropped.  

A study designed to test consumer education at point-of-purchase found similar results.  From January to March 2013, Lusk conducted an experiment on behalf of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.  A simple sign displayed in egg cases assigned colored labels to caged, cage-free and organic eggs, along with a short explanation of the type of housing provided to the hens in each category.  Colored labels were also placed underneath each egg carton to indicate what types of eggs were inside.  As a result, total market shares for conventional eggs fell by 4 percent while cage-free eggs jumped by 43 percent.

With consumer interest and purchasing on the rise, why is King attempting to legislate a setback for animals and consumers?  The King amendment not only turns back the clock on animal protection, but jeopardizes food safety, environmental protection and more – all issues that consumers care about. In the absence of King’s amendment, states are sure to continue to introduce more protective legislation.  Let’s move forward with laws that help animals and people.

Lieberman is the U.S. executive director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals.