FoodNews & Opinion
Photo CC-BY FARMWATCH_FLKR
by Mia DiFelice and Rebecca Wolf
This past spring, the Supreme Court affirmed a huge win for state authority to regulate agricultural goods. It upheld a California law that only allows the sale of pork, veal, and eggs from animals raised in improved living conditions.
But Big Ag and its cronies in Congress couldn’t let this go without a fight. In June, Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) introduced a bill called the “Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act.”
The EATS Act would stop many states’ regulations on agriculture and effectively deregulate the industry across the country. Everything from worker protections to food safety measures is now under attack. What’s more, deregulation promises to open the gates for Big Ag to get bigger, by giving it free rein to use the cheapest, most destructive practices it can.
Big Ag Has Its Hands All Over EATS
California’s Prop 12 requires that eggs, pork, or veal sold in the state must come from animals raised under certain conditions, like larger cages for birthing pigs. Californians were clearly in favor, with 60% in support of the law. In response, the pork industry took Prop 12 to federal court, claiming that it violated the Constitution.
The National Pork Producers Council argued that the law interfered with interstate trade by affecting pork production outside of California. However, the Court ruled in favor of Prop 12.
In arguing against Prop 12, Big Ag once again showed its hand — it will stop at nothing to gain even more control over how food in the U.S. is produced, in this case by tearing down state regulations. This isn’t the first time Big Ag has tried to push dangerous policies like EATS.
In 2018, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) introduced what is informally known as the “King Amendment” for consideration in that year’s Farm Bill. (He also tried to pass a similar bill in the 2014 Farm Bill.)
The King Amendment was nearly identical to today’s EATS Act and a huge gift to Big Ag. That was no surprise; Rep. King’s home state of Iowa has the largest number of pigs and chickens in the country. Almost all of them are raised on factory farms.
Now, the EATS Act enjoys the support of Big Ag lobbying organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the Farm Bureau.
The Overreaching Implications of EATS
While Prop 12 galvanized industry and built momentum for a bill like EATS, EATS’ influence would extend far beyond California.
It would strip states of their right to regulate agricultural products sold within their borders, as it says that if there’s no federal standard, the states can’t make their own.
The approach is “lowest common denominator.” If just one state in the country allows the sale of goods made with a certain practice, every state would have to, no matter how hazardous, destructive, or inhumane the practice may be.
The range of laws that the EATS Act would affect is ridiculously, dangerously broad. The bill broadly implicates “preharvest production,” which could include regulations like:
- Limits on what tools or chemicals farmers can use on their farms
- Labor laws that protect workers or prevent child labor
- Laws that restrict what chemicals can go into baby formula
- Measures that prevent or contain diseases like bird flu
This poses a huge threat to our entire food system. For example, in Iowa, people cannot bring birds exposed to infectious diseases into the state without veterinary approval. EATS would endanger this law in the middle of a bird flu epidemic that has led to the deaths of nearly 60 million birds.
EATS also defines “agricultural products” so broadly that it could include everything from vaccines to vitamins. In total, the bill could nullify over a thousand state laws.
For years, states have been empowered to enact stronger food and agriculture protections than federal law and carry them out on their terms. But if EATS were passed, states would effectively deregulate the agricultural industry. It would allow Big Ag to use even cheaper, more destructive, and more harmful practices in more places.
The Political Game of EATS in the Farm Bill
As with the King Amendment, extremist politicians will likely push for EATS language in this year’s Farm Bill. And while passing the bill itself would be unlikely, using EATS as an opening move would tip negotiations closer to chaos. This is a terrible show of bad-faith bargaining.
What’s more, it’s deeply hypocritical. The EATS Act contradicts Republican calls for states’ rights. It denies states the ability to protect their citizens with regulations on what gets sold within their borders.
The Act also flies in the face of historical bipartisan collaboration on competition measures. Far from “ending trade suppression” between states, the EATS Act just helps Big Ag get bigger. Deregulation will allow Big Ag to pursue even more cost-cutting measures than it already does. This will in turn hasten corporate consolidation in the name of profit.
That doesn’t sound like competition to us.
We Must Keep EATS From Passing
The EATS Act is infuriating but not surprising. It’s the latest of many examples of lawmakers bending to Big Ag over the well-being of their own constituents. EATS would gut critical state protections against the whims of powerful ag interests — the same interests already wreaking havoc on local environments, economies, and food systems.
Even the introduction of the act shows that extreme right-wing politicians are sinking to new lows, throwing out good-faith negotiations. If it passes, EATS would threaten a variety of vital regulations and cut off a crucial avenue for reining in Big Ag. We need to ensure that this bill dies in Congress.
Call on your Congress members to say “No” to the EATS Act!