Senator Michael Bennet is being praised by local animal activists for opposing a federal amendment to the proposed Farm Bill that would roll back rules that protect farms animals from inhumane treatment. The federal Farm Bill, officially identified as H.R. 1947 in the US House and S.954 in the US Senate, relates to many different aspects of US agriculture, from milk production to how pigs and chickens are kept.
Currently, states can pass laws that govern many aspects of farming, namely, the treatment of farm animals raised for food, but also, genetically-modified foods, what pesticides are permitted for use and so on. Republican Senator from Iowa Steve King has proposed an amendment that would take away states’ abilities to impose such specific regulations, citing his stance that such state laws hinder interstate commerce.
Senator Bennet’s regional director, James Thompson, officially reported Bennet’s position in the King Amendment to the Colorado Voters for Animals on January 10. The CVA has been working closely with Bennet’s office to encourage opposition to the King Amendment since the summer, a statement from their office said.
“The amendment is so invasive it could nullify laws against puppy mills, farm animal confinement, even the slaughter and sale of meat from horses, dogs and cats! In addition, it could affect food safety, labeling, environmental requirements, labor standards and much, much more,” The statement said.
The scope of the opposition of the King Amendment spreads far beyond the animal rights movement. It‘s strongest critics include the National Fraternal Order of Police and the National Sherriff’s Association. Both groups worry that weakening states’ abilities to pass animal protection laws will create issues for law enforcement. The ability of police to curb dog fighting, cockfighting and other acts that are often connected to the trade of illegal drugs and guns, and other illegal activities.
The Organic Consumer’s Association says the King Amendment threatens human safety as well, since it will weaken states’ abilities to oversee safe food production at large facilities. The organization’s website referenced two recent incidents in King’s home state of Iowa, one where 1,900 people were sickened by a salmonella outbreak that resulted in the recall of half a billion eggs in 2010. The egg producer, DeCoster Farms, had 73 instances of tainted eggs two years before and continued to sell them.
DeCoster’s operations, spanning from Iowa to New England, were taken over by Land O’ Lakes Corp after 2011. As well as being criticized for polluting the environment and for mistreating chickens, DeCoster had been charged with abuse of employees at least nine times since 1996 and has paid millions in OSHA fines, public records show.
While it is unclear what Land O’ Lakes may have done to improve operations, industry trends remain negative. Wages for workers continue to fall and food plants are frequent targets of questioning by immigration officials. Iowa still struggles to shake the negative image created by the former DeCoster plant’s salmonella catastrophe. At one of DeCoster’s egg facilities in Maine, a worker was shot by a coworker this past August, according to Food Safety News and other sources.
As America’s food production standards continue to attract criticism, consumers’ fears grow as control the food supply gets concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Animal cruelty remains to be a front-burner topic in Colorado. The state passed a law in 2008 that will phase out gestation crates for farm animals by 2018. Three other states passed similar laws. Gestation crates are cages where female farm animals spend their entire lives unable move and where they are forcibly impregnated again and again. The animal lies in her own urine and feces, a sanitary condition that is largely considered acceptable in many food processing facilities despite the close proximity of the feces to what will become food for humans.
The King amendment represents and direct threat against such efforts if passed since states will lose the ability to combat such conditions, says CVA and other critics.
“We are all going to be held to the least common denominator in terms of food safety,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States to the Denver Posts.
In a position statement sent in response to the Examiner's request, CVA board member Jan Shelhammer echoed Pacelle’s criticism and said CVA will not soften its stance and remains strongly opposed and continues to rally support to defeat the amendment.
“Our [CVA’s] position hasn’t changed”, Shelhammer said.