Farm bill takes aim at state welfare laws

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 11:20 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 11:21 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The future of state laws that regulate everything from the size of a hen’s cage to the safe consumption of Gulf oysters may be at stake as farm bill negotiators work to resolve a long-simmering fight between agriculture and animal welfare interests.

The House Agriculture Committee added language to its version of the farm bill earlier this year that says a state cannot impose certain production standards on agricultural products sold in interstate commerce. The provision, authored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, is aimed at a California law that will require all eggs sold in the state to come from hens that inhabit cages in which they can spread their wings — a major burden for egg producers in Iowa and other states who don’t use large cages and still want to sell eggs to the lucrative California market.

“Bottom line of it is no state should be allowed to regulate production in other states,” King said at a meeting of House-Senate negotiators last month.

But opponents say that depending on how the language is interpreted, the provision could lead to challenges of dozens of other state laws — including some aimed at food safety, fire safety and basic consumer protections.

Concern over King’s language has the potential to threaten the entire farm bill, which congressional leaders are hoping to finish by the end of the year. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she has “great concern” about King’s language, which is not in the Senate version of the farm bill.

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