Downward Harmonization of Food Safety Standards in the United States
The Protect Interstate Commerce Act introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), submitted as an amendment to the US Farm Bill last month, has come under fire again. King’s proposal would limit the ability of states to regulate agricultural production techniques, banning them from requiring agricultural and livestock production conditions stricter than those of other states. The amendment is targeted at laws like those imposed under California’s Proposition 2 (2008), which “Requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be conﬁned only in ways that allow these animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” King—who represents Iowa, the largest producer of eggs in the United States—asserts that such laws are unconstitutional and states “have zero right to regulate the producers in other states.”
A group of 14 law professors have written a letter to the House urging the amendment be withdrawn and warning that there is “a significant likelihood that many state agricultural laws across the country will be nullified, that public health and safety will be threatened, and that the amendment could ultimately be deemed unconstitutional.” A statement issued by 35 California lawmakers also opposed the amendment. The bipartisan group of lawmakers was worried as State Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg stated, that “The federal government wants to take away the right of California to ensure that our food products are both safe and nutritious and we don’t think that’s right.”
If passed, the King amendment would make it nearly impossible for state-level regulation of agricultural production, and could undermine efforts to require product labels and to impose food safety regulations beyond the “lowest common denominator,”—a process known as downward harmonization of standards—effectively transferring all responsibility for food safety and regulation to the federal level.