The Humane Society of the United States in recent weeks has been turning up the heat on Congress to throw out a state's rights amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in the 2013 Farm Bill.
The King amendment, also known as the Protect Interstate Commerce Act amendment, would prevent states from enacting laws that place conditions on how agricultural goods are raised or grown within the state's borders for sale in other states.
The PICA amendment puts significant pressure on standing laws in California, for example, which require that all egg-laying hens be housed in larger cages by 2015. The state's laws further require that all eggs sold in the state must be produced by farms that adhere to California's cage standards.
King explained that in California's case, the impact of their large market would "compel producers in other states to invest billions to meet the California standard of 'means of production,'" thereby harming ag trade.
In an op-ed for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, King further explained that laws such as California's create new federal animal welfare standards by imposing an unconstitutional trade barrier.
"If this law is allowed to stand, there is nothing preventing other states from imposing similar standards, which could further restrict producers in other states," King said.
King also argued that his farm bill amendment would "shut down the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other radical organizations from creating a network of restrictive state laws that will slowly push agriculture production towards the demise."
But HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle fired back with his own take on the regulations, calling King "one of the most radical Members of Congress" in an August 2 blog post.
Pacelle compared King's amendment to "legislative kudzu, so invasive and dangerous it could crowd out hundreds of state and local laws setting appropriate standards for agriculture."
Further, he noted that the amendment would prevent states' rights to impose "reasonable standards" on agriculture to protect animals, workers, the environment and consumers.
A group of lawmakers are also joining in to back HSUS' position, noting in a letter to House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, dated Aug. 2, that the amendment could repeal laws that cover food safety and environmental protection, not just farm animals.
"For example, labeling and other rules for products and ingredients such as artificial sweeteners, maple syrup, milk fat, farm-raised fish, tobacco, and additives in alcohol could be swept away," the group said.
Additionally, they claimed that it could present a hurdle to cross in the grand scheme of farm bill negotiations.
"The King amendment represents an additional layer of serious controversy on already controversial legislation. As you work with colleagues to develop a final Farm Bill package for consideration by the House and to find sufficient votes to pass it, we strongly urge you to do all you can to keep out the King amendment and any provision like it," they said.
The amendment has already seen significant debate during House markup of the farm bill, though it passed on a voice vote.