Rep. King Charges 'Constitutional Violation' by California to Regulate Iowa Eggs

Omar Abdulsattar Ameen.

WASHINGTON – Despite a Supreme Court defeat, farmers are not giving up the fight against a California farm animal law that opponents regard as an unconstitutional overreach on free trade, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in an interview Wednesday.

California voters in 2008 approved Proposition 2, which set state standards for confining farm animals. The regulation dictates that animals must be free to lie down, stand up and fully extend their extremities. State regulators have used the law to prohibit sales with other states that have different standards on animal confinement, which has resulted in significant loss of business for Iowa, the No. 1 egg-producing state in the country.

The Supreme Court last week declined to hear a case on the matter brought by attorneys general in Iowa, Nebraska, Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Oklahoma, upholding a prior decision made by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

“We cannot let this drop. We cannot let this go. It is a constitutional violation of California to regulate a production of products that are sold in interstate commerce,” King said, noting that major egg producers in Iowa have spent millions of dollars on doubling cage sizes, as requested by the Humane Society, and opening doors to state inspectors from California.

“Can we imagine inspectors coming from Vermont and Massachusetts and name your state to come in to our food production facilities?” he asked. “After a while, if the states can write their own regulations, and inspect in multiple states, then they are a secondary regulatory authority to the USDA or the FDA. That’s just an abhorrent concept to me.”

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, said in a recent interview that he was not surprised by the Supreme Court decision, as he believes the attorneys general did not have a solid legal case. Pacelle argued that California was within its right to set a standard for the state, and if other states want to do business with California, they need to meet that standard, as well. He said that California has taken a stand in that it’s not going to jam its farm animals into small cages, especially given that overstressed animals produce unsafe eggs with higher risks for salmonella and other food-borne pathogens.

“California can protect itself from this conduct. That’s why there’s a state government. California doesn’t have to accept the worst practices that some states offer up,” Pacelle said.

To further his point, Pacelle raised the issue of cock-fighting. If one state were to allow cock-fighting, he asked, should the other 49 states be forced to allow the practice, as well? He added that King’s argument is hypocritical.

“When it’s inconvenient for him, or when it doesn’t suit his ideology, he’s prepared to eviscerate the rights of state lawmakers, to protect the people and values of the state. Again, that just seems like the height of hypocrisy to me,” Pacelle said.

King said the next step will be to reintroduce his Protect Interstate Commerce Act, which the lawmaker contends would “protect against rising costs, allow consumers greater choice, and shield producers throughout the country from the anti-farmer whims of California’s voters and legislature.”

The courts found that the plaintiff did not prove the farmers have been adequately harmed. King said that egg producers could re-file the case and put forth a better argument for the damage to the industry, but he said companies aren’t willing to take the case for fear that animal rights organizations will try to sabotage their businesses.

King also cited the implications of the case on international trade, as the U.S. looks to re-negotiate NAFTA and other trade deals. Global powers, he said, will ask: “How can you press us for free trade if you can’t even have it within your own country?”