Ending factory farming. Ending animal cruelty.
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News Section Icon Published 4/10/2024

by Allie Molinaro

Despite broad opposition, the House Agriculture Committee included language in its draft of the upcoming Farm Bill that would overturn citizen-elected laws in California and Massachusetts.


In 2016 and 2018, Massachusetts and California passed ballot initiatives mandating that eggs, pork, and veal sold in-state must come from animals raised with certain space requirements. The measures passed with overwhelming support, with Proposition 12 in California receiving 63% support and Question 3 in Massachusetts receiving 78% support.

While modest, Proposition 12 and Question 3 are the strongest farmed animal welfare laws in the country. Both laws only mandate minimum space for the animals; neither law requires other key elements of animal welfare, such as enrichments, outdoor access, or bedding. Proposition 12 requires a minimum of 24 square feet—less than the area of a queen-sized mattress—of space for a pregnant pig, who can weigh upwards of 500 pounds. Federal law does not regulate on-farm handling standards, which is why over a dozen states have created their own policies regulating both in-state production and the sale of products from animals raised out-of-state. Since the passage of California and Massachusetts's ballot initiatives, several groups representing industrialized animal agriculture tried to stop their enactment via litigation and Congressional overreach.

Court Battles

Since 2016, lobbying groups including the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), American Farm Bureau Federation, and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) challenged Proposition 12 and Question 3 in court twelve times. The industry argued that the laws placed an unreasonable burden on the industry and violated the Interstate Commerce Clause, which gives the power to regulate interstate trade to federal Congress. They also claimed that the benefits of Proposition 12 did not outweigh the negative impacts on commerce. The industry lost all twelve cases, including one that was heard in the Supreme Court. In May 2023, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the industry's claim that Proposition 12 violated interstate commerce laws, and in a 5-4 decision rejected the claim that Prop 12 put an undue burden on the pork industry and only applied to businesses that elected to sell their products in California. The opinion penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch declared that "while the Constitution addresses many weighty issues, the type of pork chops California merchants may sell is not on that list," determining that such matters lie in the hands of the citizens and their state regulators.

Turning to Congress

Row of sows in gestation crates with one pig looking at the camera.
Gestation crates are typically two feet wide by seven feet long, just large enough for a pregnant sow to stand in.

Following the SCOTUS decision, the industry turned to Congress to overturn these popularly elected policies. Introduced by Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (R-IA) the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act, would effectively ban state and local jurisdictions from enacting standards and regulations for the sale any agricultural products produced out-of-state. While the bill was a direct response to farmed animal welfare requirements, its far-reaching language and effects raised alarm across industries and disciplines.

Harvard University published an analysis identifying over 1,000 state laws that could be nullified by the EATS Act, including laws regarding invasive pests and diseases, zoonotic diseases, food safety, fishing, food labeling, recordkeeping, and even narcotics. The Harvard report and other stakeholders also stated that such a direct override of citizen-passed ballot initiatives would threaten the democratic process and unravel decades of government precedent. Furthermore, the bill raised concerns about violating the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments of the Constitution, which outline the balance of power between the state and federal governments and protect states from lawsuits under certain circumstances.

Opponents of the bill feared that the EATS Act would effectively create a "race to the bottom," where the lowest standards in one state would become the maximum standard for the rest of the nation.


Broad Opposition

Standing to reverse animal welfare progress, overturn democratic elections, and potentially violate the Constitution, the introduction of the EATS Act ignited a wave of opposition from diverse stakeholders including animal welfare groups, farmers, food safety organizations, and market competition groups.

Since the EATS Act was introduced, 215 Members of Congress (Democrat and Republican), 16 state attorneys general, over 5,000 entities including nonprofit organizations, farms, legal experts, and veterinarians, 180 state legislators and local officials, and over 25 companies including Whole Foods, Applegate, ButcherBox, and Perdue have publicly opposed the bill. Other public opposition has included the National Grassfed Association, National Dairy Producers Organization, Kansas Cattlemen's Association, the Organization for Competitive Markets, and 107 pork producers in Pennsylvania, Chairman Thompson's home state. Among them was pork company Clemens, which invested $1 billion into its farms' infrastructure to become Prop 12 compliant and subsequently doubled its market share.

Corporate power fueled by market concentration jeopardizes food and health security. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first pandemic-related executive order issued designated slaughterhouses as "essential,” keeping meatpacking plants open. Meatpacking workers experienced some of the highest numbers of infections and deaths. Due to supply chain issues, millions of on-farm animals were needlessly killed and discarded, causing a surge in pricing and a profit increase of 300% for meat corporations.

What's inside the Farm Bill Draft

The draft Farm Bill from the House Agriculture Committee, released this week, states that states and local governments cannot impose a condition or standard on the production of covered livestock unless the livestock is physically located within such state or local government. The newest version prohibits states and municipalities from enacting animal welfare requirements for the sale of meat, dairy, and poultry products. The provision would overturn popularly elected policies like Prop 12 and Question 3.

Implications for Farmers and Farmed Animals

Brown and white calf alone in a veal crate with a hutch and buckets of food and water.

The current language in the House version of the Farm Bill would have negative impacts on small and independent farmers who are competing against large multinational corporations. Since the early 2000s, the United States has lost a quarter of its small, family-owned pig farms, while the number of pork produced has increased by a third. Proposition 12 levels the playing field, as many small and independent farms are either already Prop 12 compliant or nimble enough to make the needed changes more quickly than large conglomerates. Moreover, the House language undermines businesses that have invested in restructuring their barns to become Prop 12 compliant. Backtracking on the California and Massachusetts laws now could render such investments futile.

Passing a Farm Bill with EATS or EATS-like language in it will radically reshape the state of on-farm protections for mother pigs. Sows kept in individual gestation crates endure physical and psychological suffering, including lameness due to weaker bones and muscles, abrasion injuries, joint inflammation, cardiovascular problems, digestive problems, and urinary tract problems. Housing sows alone in the gestation crates also increase abnormal behavior such as sham chewing, swaying, bar-biting, indicating severe frustration and stress, as the sows are unable to engage in natural behaviors like rooting, nesting, depriving them of social enrichment. Research shows sows kept in crates can exhibit stereotypic behavior likened to clinical depression.

Similarly, calves kept in veal crates are housed alone with little space to move more than a few steps even in the best set-ups. Veal crates keep the calves isolated preventing any with other animals. Milk-fed veal calves are typically kept on fully slatted floors with no bedding, so they are forced to rest on hard surfaces in the same place where they are also forced to defecate. The chronic stress of social isolation and the barren, highly restrictive crates lead these calves to be chronically stressed and frustrated. Individually crated calves will display high levels of stereotypic behaviors, including tongue chewing, excessive grooming, and head bobbing, as they attempt to cope with the stressful housing conditions.


What's Next

The House Agriculture Committee is reviewing the language and will continue negotiations with the Senate. The Senate's summary of the Farm Bill does not include a comparable provision, and funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and conservation funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) continue to be key areas of debate.

If enacted, the House's provision would still nullify Proposition 12 and Question 3, overturning election results in California and Massachusetts. It could also unravel decades of precedent regarding the balance of state and federal power, undermining states' ability to pass future laws related to food safety, environmental sustainability, biodiversity protection, and other concerns.

Take Action

Mother pigs and piglets on a grassy pasture with a pond in the background.

Now is the most important time to act and express your opposition to the EATS Act. Tell your representatives to oppose Chairman Thompson's provision banning animal welfare sales requirements in the House Agriculture Committee's Farm Bill.


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