Organic Consumers Association

URGENT: Protect State Animal Welfare and GMO Labeling Laws!

This week, Congress reconvenes a conference committee tasked with finalizing the Farm Bill. If the “notorious Iowa ag-industry henchman” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) gets his way, the 2014 Farm Bill will include an amendment (#71) that will not only wipe out state laws designed to protect animals on factory farms, but could also preempt state laws requiring mandatory labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Don’t let Congress wipe out states’ rights to protect animal welfare and label GMOs. Please tell Farm Bill conference committee members to cut Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) “Protect Interstate Commerce Act” out of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Rep. King says his amendment, which he calls the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act,” is merely an effort to "reinforce the Commerce Clause," by asserting "that a state cannot deny the trade of an agricultural product from another state based on its means of production." 

But we call it the “Factory Farm Protection Act” because Rep. King's amendment is really about protecting industrial agriculture. Specifically, Rep. King wants to protect his state's factory farms from regulations intended to reign in industry’s gross abuses of workers' rights, environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety. 

Could this amendment also be used to wipe out state laws and initiatives to label GMOs? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) thought so when Rep. King tried to attach the amendment to the failed 2012 Farm Bill. Heather White, Executive Director for EWG said at the time that the bill would “. . . apply to genetically engineered food labeling, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) regulation, antibiotics use in meat and other local and state food and farm regulations."

As more and more states pass GMO labeling laws, it would come as no surprise if Monsanto and Big Food lobbyists were looking for ways to stomp on states’ rights to pass those laws.

It also comes as no surprise that among the many contributors to Rep. King's election campaigns are companies involved in every production level in the GMO supply chain, including seed and chemical companies (Monsanto, Syngenta), growers (Iowa Corn Growers' Association, American Farm Bureau), processors (American Crystal Sugar, Ag Processors), the factory farms that convert GMO grains to animal products (Beef Products Inc., the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, International Dairy Foods Association), and the junk food companies (Cargill, Coca-Cola, ConAgra) pushing GMO ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. 

Please help us get this amendment out of the Farm Bill. The best way to do that is to flood the conference committee members' offices with emails and phone calls. Your Congresspersons' phone numbers will appear when you enter your contact information. Thank you!


Rep. King drafted his “Factory Farm Protection Act” as broadly as possible to shield all of Iowa's agricultural industries from any type of regulation. But the law he'd most like to stop is California's Proposition 2, a citizens’ ballot initiative which takes effect January 1, 2015. Prop 2, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters, requires that “calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant sows be confined only in ways that allow the animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely.” 

As the top producer of eggs and pork, Iowa is the main proponent of the extreme confinement systems targeted by Prop 2. Those systems include battery cages for egg laying hens and gestation crates for pregnant pigs.

Undercover investigations of Iowa factory farms that use battery cages and gestation crates reveal how cruel these systems can be. Mercy for Animals has documented "mother sows confined to barren metal crates barely larger than their own bodies—unable to turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives" and "physically taxed from constant birthing—suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and usually fatal uterine prolapses."

Humane Society U.S. investigators witnessed egg-laying hens dying from injuries sustained when workers stuffed them into overcrowded cages, when they were trampled by other birds they were crammed in with, or when parts of their bodies got stuck in the wire cages. In addition, according to the report, "The HSUS investigator pulled many dead hens from cages who had obviously suffered uterine prolapses. One live hen's prolapse became caught in the cage floor."

The factory farm industry spent millions in an unsuccessful bid to defeat Prop 2. A lot of that money came from Iowa. The largest Iowa contribution came from Austin "Jack" DeCoster, at one time the largest player in the egg business with 35.6 million hens—more than one-tenth of the market. The media pointed out that had DeCoster put his money into improved conditions for his hens, rather than fighting laws requiring him to do so, he might have avoided the food safety catastrophe that put him out of business. 

What catastrophe? Iowa's egg factories sickened 1900 people in 2010, prompting the largest egg recall in history, of more than half a billion eggs. The salmonella outbreak involved three Iowa businesses, all controlled by DeCoster. In the two years prior to the recall, DeCoster's hen houses at his Wright County Egg facility had tested positive for salmonella 73 times, but the eggs were sold anyway. DeCoster paid out more than $8 million in fines for abuse of workers’ rights and violations of Iowa’s environmental laws. 

Rep. King is pushing his Factory Farm Protection Act to make sure bad actors like DeCoster don't learn their lessons. But farmers from other states see Rep. King’s amendment as a threat. Arnie Riebli, co-owner of Sunrise Farms in Petaluma, Calif., told the Sacramento Bee: “Iowa has the lowest food standards of any state in the Union. King is saying that the least common denominator of anything should be acceptable in any state.”

Opposition to Rep. King's Factory Farm Protection Act comes from groups that want local and state legislators to retain the power to protect their constituents through democratically enacted laws. These include:

National Conference of State Legislatures which says King’s amendment "would preempt vital state agricultural policies designed to protect the safety and well-being of our farmland, waterways, forests and, most importantly, our constituents."

County Executives of America whose members argue King’s amendment "would centralize decision making on an entire set of issues in the hands of the federal government, removing the rights of states, counties, cities and towns to enact our own standards for agricultural products based on the needs and interests of our local constituencies."

National Fraternal Order of Police which believes King’s amendment would "allow for the proliferation of puppy mills, dog and cock fighting, kill shelters and other animal cruelties."

National Sheriffs' Association which says the amendment would "not only place animals at potentially greater risk of mistreatment but also make the investigation of such cases more difficult for law enforcement."

Law Professors who say 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."

Food Safety Advocates who argue that the amendment "is overly broad and could undermine a state’s ability to protect its citizens from foodborne illness."

GMO Labeling Proponents who say King’s amendment "would revoke the ability of individual states' lawmakers to pass GMO labeling laws," prompting observers to dub the amendment "Monsanto Protection Act 2.0."

Please help us get this amendment out of the Farm Bill. The best way to do that is to flood the conference committee members' offices with emails and phone calls. Your Congresspersons' phone numbers will appear when you enter your contact information. Thank you!