Farm bill amendment poses significant risk

A poorly considered amendment to the national farm bill being debated this week in the U.S. House could nullify state laws preventing animal cruelty and preempt a broad spectrum of laws ranging from child labor to the labeling of farm-raised fish.

The amendment, proposed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, appears directed at animal welfare laws approved by voters in several states, including Washington. It would, for example, overturn our 2007 law banning gestation crates for pigs.

But the amendment’s language is so broad and vague that it could wipe out state laws on food safety, labeling, labor and environmental protection. It would effectively force states to authorize the sale and consumption of any agricultural product, no matter how dangerous, unethical or environmentally destructive.

When Congress pre-empts state laws, it usually does so to replace them with a uniform national standard. That is the idea behind the bipartisan Egg Products Inspection Act amendments, which would replace a number of conflicting state laws about the housing of egg-laying hens with uniform regulations supported by the stakeholders.

The King amendment represents the worst possible response to resolving conflicts in interstate commerce: wiping out state laws and leaving a vacuum.

Congress should erase this amendment from the wide-ranging farm bill.