Amidst the late-night wrangling that took place during the House Agriculture Committee’s final vote on its version of the 2012 Farm Bill, was an amendment presented by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, regarding interstate commerce and farm-animal housing standards.

It is called the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA), which the committee voted to adopt and add to H.R. 6083-- the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act of 2012.  The amendment prohibits state or local governments from “imposing a standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce” if the production occurs in another state and follows federal law.

This would address such things as state referendums and legislation that set specific animal housing, rearing or labelling standards related to food-animal production. One such example would be California’s Proposition 2.

King pointed out that “by 2014 California will require only 'free-range' eggs be sold (in the state) and the impact of their large market would compel producers in every other state to invest billions to meet the California standard of ‘means of production’.”

Among the committee members supporting King’s amendment were Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. Supporters argued that the point was to stop states setting such standards in the first place. "You can't regulate interstate commerce by passing laws like you did in California to regulate egg production," said Goodlatte. Rep, Collin Peterson, D-Minn., added that such state laws essentially hold farmers in the rest of the country captive.

“I am pleased that the committee passed my amendment, PICA because states are entering into trade protectionism by requiring cost-prohibitive production methods in other states," said King. "PICA blocks states from requiring 'free-range' eggs or 'free-range' pork but covers all agriculture products listed in section 206 of the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946.”

He added, “PICA will ensure that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence."

Not surprising, HSUS had a different reaction to the PICA inclusion, calling it a “radical federal overreach” that attempts to rob the states of their historic police power to legislate for the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. HSUS said the action would “void dozens of duly enacted state laws, state citizen ballot initiatives, state constitutional provisions, and key state health and safety regulations across the country.”

“He (King) doesn’t want the federal government to pass any laws to protect animals or consumer safety, and now he wants to nullify or prevent any such laws at the state and local level, too,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer. “We cannot allow the farm bill to pass with such a poison pill provision that tramples on the rights and jeopardizes people and animals.” According to an HSUS news release, it and the Humane Society Legislative Fund will work to convince the full House to reject the King amendment.

Pacelle believes that the PICA amendment “is almost certainly unconstitutional,” and points to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on the Affordable Care Act. That while the Commerce Clause allows Congress to regulate commerce; “it doesn't give Congress the authority to mandate its creation, nor to require anyone to participate in commerce they find objectionable.”

In a related matter, legislation outlining federal housing and labelling standards for egg-laying hens did not make it into the House farm bill nor is it included in the Senate version. HSUS and the United Egg Producers originally June 30 as their goal to have the legislation, commonly referred to as the egg bill, through Congress. Any future movement on that legislation will have to be presented within the House and Senate by the bill’s sponsors

While the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) had no position on the PICA amendment, it did comment on the current status of the HSUS/UEP egg bill, "Obviously, NPPC is pleased that the HSUS-backed egg bill was not attached to the farm bill by the House Agriculture Committee. Pork producers should call their representative to urge him or her to oppose any effort to add the egg bill to the farm bill when it comes to the floor of the House. It would set a dangerous precedent for allowing federal bureaucrats to dictate on-farm production practices, including animal housing."