Representative Steve King, R-IA, has succeeded in attaching his “Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA) of 2018” to the House version of the now 641-page “Farm Bill” and senators are pushing back.

A conservative Republican, King wants to use federal power to stop states from interfering with what he refers to as American agriculture. In response, some of the Senate’s most liberal Democrats and Socialist Bernie Sanders, S-VT, are lining up to support state’s rights.

That’s a bit of twist. State’s rights are usually embraced by conservatives and liberals typically support broader uses of federal power.

This role reversal comes about because federal courts have recently upheld California law that imposes its poultry cage standards on out-of-state egg producers who want to sell eggs to the Golden State’s 39.5 million consumers.

The court rulings hurt Iowa, the nation’s largest egg-producing state. King’s solution is a law, initially advanced as HR 4879, to force states like California to accept American agricultural products from other states as long as they adhere to federal law.

However, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, Sanders and 30 other U.S. senators say King’s amendment would “force states to accept agricultural products that violate state and local laws.” The House and Senate have adopted different versions of the 2018 appropriations legislation commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. Leaders of the House and Senate plan to reconcile the two versions after their August recess.

The liberal block of Senators expressed their opposition to King’s amendment in an Aug. 2nd letter to Sens. Pat Roberts, D-KS, and Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, respectively.

“If enacted,” the letter said, “this amendment would undermine numerous state laws and infringe on the fundamental rights of states to establish regulations within their borders. We want to thank you for not including this provision in the Senate bill, and strongly encourage you to reject this provision in any form in the final conference report.”

The letter further says the King amendment would “force states and local governments to accept products from other states that violate standards and regulations enacted in the importing state. These state and local laws were enacted to address concerns relating to the protection of consumers, farmers, workers, the environment and more. Overriding these laws is wrong, both as a matter of federalism and public policy, and we should not enact this overhaul of state and local regulatory power.”

The National Association of Egg Farms has endorsed King’s amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill.  And King says: “States do not have the Constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce; the United States Congress does. Egg farmers in Iowa and around the country understand the importance of continued access to California’s market, and they are right to object to California’s attempt to regulate out-of-state producers. PICA fixes this problem and ensures that agriculture producers in the other 49 states are not held hostage to the demands of California’s Vegan Lobby.”

King’s amendment would force states to authorize the sale of “any agricultural product” not prohibited under federal law. Whether it stays in the Farm Bill or goes is now up to a newly appointed House-Senate conference committee.

Conference committee members on the Senate side are Roberts; Stabenow; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY; Sen. John Boozman, R-AK.; Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-IA; Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH; and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND.

Appointed to the conference committee from the House are Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-TX; Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-PA; Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA; Rep.Frank Lucas, R-OK; Rep Mike Rogers, R- AL; Rep Austin Scott, D-GA; Rep. Rick Crawford, R-AK; Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-MO; Rep. Rodney Davis, R-IL; Rep. Ted Yoho, R-FL; Rep. David Rouzer R-NC; Rep Roger Marshall, R-KS; and Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-TX.

The Harvard Law School Animal Law and Policy Program prepared a 209-page summary in May this year of state and local laws that could be affected by King’s Amendment.

“While it is difficult to quantify all of the laws and regulations that may face federal preemption under PICA, this index provides a sample of those that potentially could be rendered unenforceable depending upon how courts interpret the language of the bill. It is neither exhaustive nor representative of all areas that may be affected,” the Harvard report says.

The index includes a category of “food safety generally” that provides for state laws on date labels, alteration of dating tags, damaged food, date packaged, produced or harvested, and the sale of expired foods.

The Senate letter points to state bans on the import of Ash trees that might damage local ecosystems or spread the emerald ash borer. Likewise, several southern states have laws to prevent the spread of Asian citrus psyllid, which causes citrus greening. Several states prohibit infant formula from being sold after the expiration date to protect the health of children.

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