Farm bill amendment threatens our state’s well-being

Our legislators in Olympia give us many reasons to be proud of Washington state. They have taken significant actions to ensure safer working conditions on our farms, increase protections for Washington consumers, and combat the worst forms of animal cruelty, abuse and neglect.

Outrageously, a congressman from Iowa is trying to overturn many of these state and local laws and hinder our legislators’ ability to create new laws related to agriculture. He’s doing this through an amendment to our nation’s farm bill, a collection of agricultural-related legislation that Congress is currently working to finalize.

An extreme provision introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, into the House of Representatives’ draft of the Farm Bill would deal a heavy blow to our state.

For example, our legislators here in Washington understand the value we place on knowing where our food comes from. Our state enacted labeling requirements to inform consumers about whether salmon is farm-raised or wild-caught and other information about the fish’s origins. That widely supported law could be eliminated if King’s amendment moves forward.

We could be saying goodbye to our state’s law requiring minimum care be provided to dogs in large-scale breeding operations known as puppy mills. King’s amendment would even impact labor laws and protections for workers from dangerous farming equipment, pesticides and respiratory hazards. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

While King’s intent may be to target animal welfare measures relating to agriculture, his amendment is worded so vaguely and broadly that any state, county or local law pertaining to agricultural production could fall into his line of fire. Even lumber laws protecting states from invasive insects and cigarette fire-prevention safeguards are at risk.

The ultimate impact of this overreaching legislation would only be determined after years of litigation and regulatory uncertainty, which will stifle Washington’s agriculture industry and limit economic growth.

What’s more, the King amendment is an unprecedented strike against the historic power of states to protect the health and safety of their own citizens. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution ensures that right. This provision attempts to strip states of it and force them to allow the sale and consumption of any agricultural product — no matter how dangerous, unethical or environmentally destructive.

With so much at stake, you would think that Congress would at least muster a healthy public discussion on the issue, yet there have been no hearings on this amendment; it was approved by a voice vote late at night in committee after about 10 minutes of debate, even though several legislators argued against it. We need to make sure this amendment doesn’t get swept into the final farm bill the same way.

When it comes down to it, who do you trust to create laws to protect Washington’s citizens and farm families: our local elected officials or D.C. politicians like King? We need our federal lawmakers in both the House and Senate to demand that the King amendment be removed from the final farm bill. If it stays in, the results will be devastating in Washington state and throughout our nation.

Dan Paul is the Washington state director for the Humane Society of the United States.