How The House Farm Bill Guts Important Food Safety Protections

ThinkProgress has already documented the hypocrisy in Rep. Steve King’s (R-IA) attempt to overturn California’s prohibitions on foie gras and inhumanely produced eggs, while insisting that the state can ban birth control. But King’s amendment to the latest farm bill — introduced very shortly before its near-literal midnight passage — doesn’t only affect California. It threatens to destroy state regulations on food safety altogether, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Environmental Working Group’s legal expert Heather White:

[T]he amendment would “prohibit any state or local government” from “impos[ing] a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce” if 1) production of the agricultural product also occurs in another state; and 2) the standard is in addition to the production or manufacture to federal law and the laws of the state is which such production occurs.” This impenetrable language simply means that states would be prevented from regulating just about any agricultural product in commerce — contrary to the well-grounded constitutional principles of state police power to protect the health and safety of its citizens within the state.

Foodborne illnesses already kill 3000 and sicken roughly 48 million Americans annually. CAFOs, also known as factory farms, were likely responsible for the incubation of swine flu, which has killed almost 11,000 Americans and about 25,000 people worldwide to date. This is because the horrific conditions factory farm animals are kept in function as “perfect breeders” for new and more deadly strains of illness. Further, according to a Humane Society investigation, factory farms “produce immense quantities of animal waste and byproducts, which threaten water and air quality and contribute to climate change.”

These aren’t problems that the federal government alone can address. Researchers for a consortium of major universities found that state regulations play by far the most important role in regulating food safety. “State and local agencies are much closer to consumers than federal agencies and must respond to food safety concerns in their communities, even when the problems originate elsewhere,” they found.


In short: King’s amendment removes the single most effective barrier to the spread of foodborne illnesses, multiplying the House Farm Bill’s already devastating consequences for hungry Americans. While the King Amendment isn’t likely to survive conference with the Senate, its prospects would improve if the GOP takes over the Senate.