Recess dust-up may turn into fall’s Battle Royal as pork-producing states want California out of their business


The EATS Act, to stop California from regulating America’s farms and ranches by protecting states’ authority to regulate agriculture within their borders, is turning into a significant dustup that is not waiting for the congressional recess to get over.

For the August recess, which actually does not end until Congress goes back to the national capitol in September, more verbal bombs have gone back and forth than usual.

Attorney generals for 16 states posted a letter to the U.S. Congressional leadership on Aug. 9, urging the passage of the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (“EATS”) Act. The EATS Act seeks to preserve states’ rights by limiting their ability to impose agricultural regulations on other states.

According to the states, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States provides the federal government with the duty to regulate interstate commerce. 

“Consistent with that duty, this bill prevents states from impeding Ag trade from other states within the U.S.,” the letter says. “States should have the power to command their destiny regarding agriculture production practices. And this bill preserves the State and Local government units’ right to regulate farming and ranching within their own state.”

California’s burdensome regulations will put small, medium, and possibly even large pork producers out of business, according to opponents. And, American consumers won’t be able to afford bacon for breakfast, the letter added.

“California’s radical-drafted requirements for farmers are hog wild,” the Attorneys Generals wrote. “Justice Kavanaugh recognized that California’s requirements might even worsen animal health and welfare. And because California buys about 13 percent of the nation’s pork, it is prohibitively expensive for farmers to separate California-approved pork from the rest.”

The EATS Act would overturn the Supreme Court’s May 11, 2023, ruling that, with a 5-to-4  vote, found states have the right to regulate products sold within their state.  Known as Proposition 12, it is the measure California uses to impose its 2018 farm animal confinement standards on conditions for selling products in California.

“Solving the problems Prop 12 creates requires understanding what went so wrong. California’s unscientific approach to raising pork follows from the fact that Californians barely raise any pork themselves,” they charge.

The pork-producing states do not think California even knows what it is doing.

The attorneys general and governors who’ve gone on record supporting the EATS Act often mention their concerns about the “activists,” referring to animal activists raising the confinement issue.

And these activists also have been very busy during the August recess. They had a virtual press event Wednesday to roll out a  new report by the Center for a Humane Economy and Animal Wellness Action showing that a diversified pig production sector already in place can meet the modest demand created by Prop 12 in California and Question 3 in Massachusetts for more humanely raised pork.

A State can always try to lead by example — passing laws to regulate agricultural production within its borders. But that is not what California did, instead it continued. “Californians voted to impose their radical agenda on out-of-state farmers and ranchers — and in doing so, raise food costs for Americans across the country. Their approach is an attack on States’ authority. As a result, many small- and medium-sized pork producers may go out of business. All in support of California’s out-of-touch activist agenda.”

The report also claims that In promoting the EATS Act, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and some of its legislative allies have falsely stated that California “doesn’t like bacon,” that the farm-animal ballot measures ban farrowing crates, and that the two ballot measures will require that farmers in Iowa and Kansas must change their production practices and conform to California’s rules. 

The report reveals that the industry has been in transition for more than two decades since Florida banned the use of gestation crates in 2002 and has the existing capacity to supply gestation-crate-free pork in two states.

It claims that nearly 40 percent of breeding sows are already in group housing systems rather than gestation crates, and market analysis shows that California and Massachusetts together will require just 6 percent of total U.S. pork production to come from facilities that allow the sows an opportunity to lie down, stand up, and turn around. 

It says those false claims are debunked in the new report released today, with the analysis conducted by two agricultural veterinarians steeped in animal agriculture and based in the Midwest.

“The National Pork Producers Council is spinning an enormous yarn,” said Dr. Jim Keen, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of veterinary science for the Center for a Humane Economy and the primary author of the new report.

Keen worked for two decades at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, NE, and as a faculty member of the University of Nebraska College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The new report, which can be viewed here, notes that EATS, or the Exposing Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act, would not only unwind two landslide state elections but would undo more than 1,000 other state laws according to an analysis from a team of legal analysts at Harvard University.

The report notes that the pork industry, as a matter of law, is already selling pork from the offspring of overcrowded, immobilized breeding sows in 48 states and 139 nations without any animal welfare restrictions or minimum space allotments.

“The trade association has exaggerated the market impact of ballot measures in California and Massachusetts by 300 percent,” he said. “A highly diversified pork industry has ample capacity right now to accommodate the market demand for Prop 12 and Question 3 without any meaningful changes to the current animal housing setups.”

The report notes that Prop 12 and Question 3 exempt all combined and canned pork products, which represent about 42 percent of pork sales in California and Massachusetts, meaning that nearly half of the pork sold in these two states need not come from farms providing some ample living space to the sows.

 It also notes that nearly 40 percent of sows are already in group housing. Minor adjustments on these farms would allow producers to sell whole pork cuts to California and Massachusetts.

“The EATS Act has the perverse effect of nullifying U.S. elections and benefitting a foreign government that wants no humane standards in agriculture. China is building high-rise factory farms that bear no resemblance to the farming practices that my family has observed for 100 years in southwest Oklahoma.”

“Through its total control of Smithfield Foods, the Chinese Government already controls a quarter of U.S. pig production,” added Dr. Thomas Pool, senior veterinarian with Animal Wellness Action and a former Colonel and U.S. Army Veterinary Command commander. 

Pool is an Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine graduate.

The report’s authors also conclude that any price increases in pork in California or Massachusetts would be contrived and based on false assumptions by pork industry leaders. The 40 percent of the industry relying on group housing is already competitive on inputs and pricing, with the remainder relying on gestation crates.

Keen and Pool note that the EATS Act can potentially drive thousands more pig farmers out of business by accelerating consolidation in American agriculture and turning many who stay in business into contract farmers answering to Chinese- and Brazilian-owned companies (Smithfield and JBS). These two companies already control 40 percent of the value of the U.S. pork industry (Smithfield 26 percent and   JBS 14 percent).

The report also notes the deep reservoir of public opposition to using gestation crates and the thorough judicial repudiation of the claims that Prop 12 was an unconstitutional intrusion into interstate commerce.

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