Successful Farming | Vocal Opponents Aim to Defeat EATS Act

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The campaign by farm-state lawmakers for a federal override of California’s Proposition 12 animal welfare law, derided as a “bacon ban,” has run into back-home opposition. Activist farm groups say the override, known as the EATS Act, imperils small farmers and must be kept out of the farm bill.

As one of the few must-pass bills before Congress, the farm bill would be a logical vehicle to carry the legislation if the EATS Act, the acronym for Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act, fails to move as a stand-alone bill. Companion versions were filed in the Senate and House following the Supreme Court decision in May upholding Prop 12 as constitutional.

“The EATS Act would accelerate market concentration in the food and agriculture industries to the benefit of a handful of multinational corporate agribusinesses,” said Missouri farmer Joe Maxwell, president of Farm Action Fund. It was part of a coalition, that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council and the ASPCA, behind the “Defeat Eats” campaign, launched last week.

Groups such as the fair-trade Organization for Competitive Markets and the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association were early opponents. “If EATS is included in the upcoming farm bill, it’ll mark the end of American family farming as we know it,” said Deborah Mills, a member of the OCM board and chairwoman of the National Dairy Producer Organization.

On Monday, 150 members of the House stated “our strong opposition to the inclusion” of the EATS Act “or any similar legislation in the 2023 farm bill” in a letter to the leaders of the House Agriculture Committee. The letter said “the EATS Act could harm America’s small farmers, threaten numerous state laws, and infringe on the fundamental rights of states to establish laws and regulations within their own borders.” Politico, which headlined the letter, said the EATS Act “would likely prove a poison pill” for the farm bill.

A Harvard law school group and the Humane Society of the United States separately have said the EATS Act is so broadly written that it could jeopardize 1,000 health, safety and welfare laws on the state level, despite being presented as protective of states’ rights. The National Pork Producers Council, with members throughout the pork supply chain, “supports developing a long-term solution to Proposition 12.”

The legislation would allow virtually anyone — producers, distributors, consumers and laborers are among those named — to file suit in federal court to invalidate a state or local “standard or precondition on the pre-harvest production of any agricultural products sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce if the production occurs in another state.”

“If California wants to regulate agriculture in its own state, that’s fine, but California’s rules should not apply to Kansas, whose legislature never approved of these regulations,” said Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, the lead Senate sponsor of the EATS Act. Iowa Rep. Ashley Hinson, the lead sponsor in the House, said she was proud “to stand against this ‘bacon ban,’ ensure farmers can continue to feed the nation, and protect interstate commerce.”

California voters overwhelmingly approved Prop 12, requiring farmers to give breeding sows, egg-laying hens and veal calves more room to move about, in a statewide referendum in 2018. Prop 12 bars the sale of pork produced on farms in other states if they do not comply with the California standard. California says Prop 12 is not a burden on other states because it affects only the pork sold in the state.

Farm-state lawmakers have debated the issue before, in the form of the so-called King amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve King of Iowa, during work on the 2014 and 2018 farm bills. King was thwarted in his proposal.