How Steve King turned his back on states’ rights for Big Ag

How Steve King turned his back on states’ rights for Big Ag

When I was growing up, the small-scale, independent farmers in and around my hometown of Gatkze, Minnesota, had a healthy skepticism of Washington, DC, and these good men and women are never more present in my thoughts than in a year like this when the Congress is working on a farm bill.  Those Minnesota farmers had a strong dislike for flip flop hypocrisy. 

Of all the mischief that bedevils the current farm bill, there is nothing to match the political doublespeak behind the Protect Interstate Commerce Act, championed by Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingConservative lawmakers press Trump to suspend guest worker programs for a year The Hill's Campaign Report: DOJ, intel to be major issues in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Americans venture out as officials pin future on vaccine MORE (R-Iowa).  To be clear, King’s proposal does no such thing, quite the opposite in fact.  It’s a straight up threat to the authority of states to pass laws of their choosing, and he’s been foisting it upon the Congress for a few years running in one form or another, without respite.  It’s bad for farmers.  It’s bad for consumers.  It’s bad for our states.  It’s bad for our country.


Everything he’s done to push this federal power grab puts the lie to any claim King might make for himself as a constitutional fundamentalist.  King describes himself as “a firm believer in states’ rights, which is why I am a proud member of the Tenth Amendment Caucus, which focuses on restoring the critical balance between the powers of the states and those of the federal government.”  But King’s farm bill amendment says something else, namely that he’ll suppress states’ rights when it suits him and the pork and egg factory farming operations of Iowa. 

King has more factory-farmed chickens in his congressional district than any other member of Congress, and his proposal is a pork barrel valentine for the barons of Big Agriculture.  They aren’t able to compete against farmers who practice good animal stewardship, increasingly prized in other states, so hey, why not push for a measure that essentially abolishes any and all state and local agricultural laws that might stand in their way?  Then, these companies can flood the nation’s markets with chickens raised in states like King’s, where the factory farming of animals takes place at a level that can be cruel.

In the end, it’s a flagrant attempt to prevent states from imposing conditions on the production or manufacture of agricultural products sold in interstate commerce, should such regulations be more stringent than federal law or standards set by other states.  

And as is so typical of overreaching proposals, the King amendment doesn’t just target the cause of animal welfare, which, as he’s proven again and again, he so dislikes.  King’s proposal would force each state to allow virtually any agricultural product, no matter how substandard, adulterated, or dangerous, into its market.  That could be chicken.  That could be hemp.  That could be forest products.  That could be just about anything, so blunt, so sweeping and so wholesale is the approach King is pushing as a standard bearer for factory farming corporations.

At one level, the King amendment is a kind of desperate measure undertaken on behalf of desperate parties in the face of dramatically changing public preferences.  Reacting to consumer demand, retailers and restauranteurs around the United States, and in many other nations, are moving rapidly away from extreme confinement of farm animals.  King’s amendment is a craven attempt to hijack the farm bill to hold off the wave of consumer choice that is, increasingly turning against such cruel methods of making profits, and to bolster the status-quo mistreatment of animals.

If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, then there is a certain kind of congressman who bears steady watching.   With his perennial interference in American farm bill policy, King has taken his place among them.  He’s firing a gut shot at the rights of states and their voters to pass the kinds of laws they judge right for their communities, and it’s not just about animals.  It’s got broad-reaching implications for agricultural policy in general.  It’s wrong.

And his colleagues in Congress need to stop him.

Sara Amundson is the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.