Farm bill axes ‘King amendment’ on egg rules

Five weeks after Californians voted for still-stronger animal welfare standards, House and Senate negotiators discarded farm bill language sponsored by Iowa Rep. Steve King to roll such state measures back.

King, a Republican who recently won a tight race for re-election, had hoped to overturn a¬†California law that requires eggs imported into the state to be produced under the same animal welfare standards that its farmers follow; the measure forces other states to ban “battery” cages for hens if they want to sell eggs in California. Opponents have said for months that the King amendment was so broadly drawn that it imperiled any state law or regulation affecting agriculture that is more restrictive than the federal government.

A House Agriculture Committee staffer said on Monday that King’s “Protect Interstate Commerce” amendment was among a raft of House provisions that were left out of the House-Senate compromise. The House Rules Committee was to meet Tuesday afternoon to clear the way to a final vote on the farm bill. “If Congress passes this legislation I will encourage the President to sign it,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

In 2008, California was first in the nation to require that farm animals be given enough room to stand up, turn around, lie down and fully extend their limbs. Legislators decided two years later that all eggs sold in the state should be produced in similar conditions. Midwestern states have been trying to get the Supreme Court to rule on that mandate. The Justice Department recently advised the court that the egg case “is not one of the rare cases that warrants” review.

Four of every nine eggs consumed in California are imported from other states, with 30 percent from Iowa, the No. 1 egg state. So there is angst over remodeling chicken barns to meet California’s standards.

On Nov. 6, California voters approved “cage free” Proposition 12. It builds on 2008’s “Prop 2” by spelling out the number of square feet that farmers must provide for sows, veal calves and egg-laying hens and require that pork, veal and eggs produced outside of the state must meet the same standards. Beginning in 2022, floor space for hens would be determined by cage-free standards set by the trade group United Egg Producers. Prop 12 would end the use of sow “crates,” veal-calf stalls and “battery” cages for hens, all of which restrict animal movement.

For the text of the House-Senate compromise, click here.

The “joint explanatory statement” by conferees is available here.