Under the legislation, local and state governments could lose the ability to regulate agricultural practices such as chicken farming. (Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr)

A bill introduced by an Iowa member of Congress would strip states and local governments of their ability to regulate industrial agriculture in their communities, hurting both residents and small farmers, a national coalition says.

The bill, the Protect Interstate Commerce Act , was introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa 4th). It would prohibit state and local governments from adding any restrictions on agriculture and food production if the product is offered for sale in another state.

Chelsea Davis, a Missouri farmer and communications director for Family Farm Action, said that the trickle-down effects of the bill would nullify state and local government actions that have tried to protect family farmers, consumers, and the environment.

“Farming and production standards are very diverse throughout the country,” Davis said. “Rep. King is proposing a one size fits all approach and that’s just not acceptable.”

The “local control” issue is likely to flare up when Congress negotiates the next farm bill. The current bill expires in September.

Family Farm Action is part of a national coalition that opposes the legislation.

“This is the same attack on farmers, ranchers and rural communities that Rep. King has tried before” Davis said. “The point of this broad-based coalition, the point of our sign-on letter and the work we’re doing on the bill now, is to make sure the proposal doesn’t go un-noticed.”

Some of the other organizations participating in the campaign include the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Farmers Union, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, National Family Farm Coalition and the Organization for Competitive Markets.

Rep. King says in a press release that he filed the legislation in response to California’s Proposition 2, a citizen initiative passed to limit the confinement of livestock and poultry.

“The United States Constitution grants the power to regulate interstate commerce to Congress, not to California,” King said in the release. “Since California’s enactment of its unconstitutional Proposition 2, which prohibits the trade of agricultural products with states who do not adopt California’s mandates, I have worked to reassert the proper understanding of the Commerce Clause on behalf of agricultural producers in Iowa and the other 48 states.”

King’s legislation has the practical effect of state-enacted “right to farm” constitutional amendments or legislation, so-called because they prevent local authorities from regulating farm or agricultural production activities. Critics say such measures protect corporations and industrial agribusinesses from local regulation and make it harder for small farmers to compete. In 2014, Missouri voters narrowly passed a constitutional amendment reserving all authority to regulate agriculture to the state government. South Dakota has also passed a similar amendment. Oklahoma and North Dakota have gone in the other direction. In 2017 Oklahoma voters defeated a proposal to prevent local governments from enacting stricter regulations on farming. And in 2016 voters in North Dakota overturned a state law that allowed corporate farming, which has been prohibited in the state since the Great Depression.

National organizations representing state and local governments have also weighed in against the King bill. The National Conference of State Legislatures, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and International City/County Management Association all oppose its passage. In a joint letter to the House Agriculture Committee leadership, they said the bill would violate the 10th Amendment. The “reserved powers” amendment reserves to the states powers not granted to the federal government in the Constitution.

“The 10th Amendment is the cornerstone of constitutional federalism,” the letter said. “States and local governments have used this authority to enact laws that protect our citizens from a wide array of threats including invasive pests, livestock diseases, while maintaining quality standards for agricultural products and ensuring food safety.”

The groups said the issue is not about interstate commerce, but about public health and welfare.

“Our main opposition to the bill is because of the precedent it would set, a precedent that could upset state-led efforts to implement programs for farmers interested in differentiating their products,” said Paul Wolfe, senior policy specialist for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“States are the incubators for policies and ideas,” Wolfe said. “They’re the laboratories for innovations in origin labeling for local food products, for production methods that can allow farmers to earn additional income for using sustainable practices. [Under existing law,] states and local governments can take action to protect their farmers. We don’t know where this legislation would lead. Does this bill erode that authority?”

Family Farm Action’s Davis said that the coalition opposing the Protect Interstate Commerce Act will continue, especially as the debate to replace the expiring federal farm bill ramps up throughout the 2018 legislative year. “This doesn’t just impact Rep. King’s district,” Davis said. “Everyone, all rural communities, farmers across the country are impacted by this bill.”

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