King amendment: The Farm’s Bill golden egg

From the endless email alerts, blogs, Facebook posts, and Tweets from the Humane Society—to say nothing of Pacelle’s ad hominem attacks on King—you’d think the amendment would cause the sky to fall. Far from it. What’s all the clucking really about? King’s amendment would stop animal liberation groups from using one state’s ballot box to force its views on the rest of the country.

The kerfuffle over King’s amendment comes from a 2008 California ballot campaign pushed by the vegan Humane Society of the United States (not affiliated with local humane societies). HSUS, using emotional arguments, convinced voters to support a law banning common hen housing on egg farms in the state. The campaign succeeded despite predictions from UC-Davis experts that it would bankrupt the state’s egg industry.

The predicted bankruptcy loomed and neighboring states looked like greener pastures for California’s egg industry. So California’s legislature had a solution: Force the same regulations on out-of-state farmers trying to sell eggs in the state. The law was passed under the clever guise of food safety (states can regulate interstate commerce in limited circumstances, such as for health and safety).

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But the food safety claims are an illusion. As California State Congressman Dennis Cardoza said, if “you can put small cages in Nevada, right across the border and our state can't prohibit it, then that's a problem for us.” The real motivation was economic protectionism—reaching into Nevada and the other 48 states. That’s why California Republicans opposed King’s amendment, while it won support from Democrats in other states.

Food safety, in fact, is already regulated at the federal level under the Egg Products Inspection Act and various other regulatory regimes. If King’s amendment passes, it hardly means that standards and regulations are going out the window.

The bottom line is that HSUS sees California’s ballot box as a tool to push regulations onto the other 49 states that it could never push through Congress or legislatures. HSUS is opposed to any agriculture involving animals. An HSUS vice president told an animal conference that the group hopes “to get rid of the entire [animal agriculture] industry” and that “we don't want any of these animals to be raised and killed” for food. Pacelle hopes to raise prices and reduce demand for eggs and other products by raising costs for farmers not just in California but in other states, and encouraging economic protectionism is one way to do it.

The other way is through federal regulation. Despite its cries against federal overreach, HSUS is lobbying for a national law that would impose California-style hen-housing regulations on all 50 states. So far Congress has left this rotten egg out of the Farm Bill. After similar hen-housing regulations took hold in Europe last year, the marketplace was roiled with supply shortages and price shocks.

Congress, not California, is empowered to regulate interstate commerce. If the chicken activists had any intellectual honesty, they’d stop crying “fowl” over attempts to stop California’s overreach.

Berman is executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.