By TIMOTHY EGGERT
Congress needs to craft a legislative fix to Proposition 12. That was a top message delivered by a group of 16 Illinois Farm Bureau members who took to Capitol Hill last week and met with elected officials as part of IFB’s Leaders to Washington program.
“Prop 12 obviously is a concern for the pork producers, but everyone in the industry is concerned due to (the California animal welfare law) possibly being used against other commodities and other states putting down similar regulations,” said Christina Weller, an attorney who practices agribusiness law in Stephenson County.
“Farmers in other states’ ag industries have to match California’s regulations, then they have to go try to match what another state does — that creates a lot of issues and too much instability for the market,” added Weller, who also serves on IFB’s State Young Leader Committee.
Weller outlined that issue in a meeting with U.S. Rep. Eric Sorensen, D-East Moline, and again in a discussion with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield.
Other IFB members also raised it in meetings with U.S. Reps. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro; Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield; Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap; Mary Miller, R-Oakland; and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, and their staffs.
Set to take effect Jan. 1 after the U.S. Supreme Court this summer ruled it constitutional under the Commerce Clause, Prop 12 prohibits sales in the state of pork, veal and eggs from livestock whose confinement do not meet certain minimum space rules.
Compliance with those provisions, the Illinois producers explained, will likely spell major costs for farmers, leading to higher pork prices for consumers, and may cause more negative health outcomes for hogs raised under its standards.
They further detailed how California is setting production standards for other states, and in doing so is regulating interstate commerce, an authority reserved for the federal government.
The Illinois farmers also explained how the court’s decision on the law could set a negative precedent for ag-related rules in other states.
“The potential for individual states through ballot initiatives to create a regulatory environment that could be used in any imaginable way against crop production, vegetable production and other livestock industries creates a scenario of great uncertainty for producers,” said Brian Duncan, an Ogle County hog farmer who also serves as IFB’s vice president.
Duncan further noted the law stems from a lack of input from agricultural stakeholders and wasn’t based around veterinary science or industry-accepted practices.
Prop 12 could further reduce the number of farmers looking to enter or increase their role in the U.S. hog industry, according to Amy Heberling, a Christian County beginning farmer who oversees a small, diversified operation that features livestock and row crops.
Heberling currently manages just a handful of feeder pigs and aspires to expand her hog herd, but said she worries a state-by-state patchwork of future regulations could make that growth too complicated or too expensive.
“The precedent that’s going into effect will go through and impact how we do all of agriculture going forward,” Heberling said.
There’s also an international trade and market access component to the California law, one that Duncan said is being tracked closely by farmers in Canada, a major exporter of beef and pork to the United States.
Duncan and the other IFB members met with officials from the Canadian Embassy in Washington D.C. and discussed ways their respective governments might address the issue.
As for what Congress should do, Weller, Heberling and Duncan all advised their elected officials from Illinois to support legislation — either a standalone bill or as language inserted into the 2023 farm bill — that would empower the federal government’s ability to regulate interstate sales of commodities and other agricultural products.
They highlighted a bill introduced in June by U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., known as the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act that would preserve the right of state and local governments to regulate farming and ranching within their own state. The bill has 10 other GOP co-sponsors, but it likely won’t receive bipartisan support.
“One solution is having USDA be the regulator instead of the states,” Weller said, explaining how the department already sets rules for other aspects of the livestock industry.
“If a state wants to give to USDA these regulations that are safety or science-based then the USDA should be the one to implement for farmers or work with farmers on implementing them,” Weller said.
How the law currently sits, she added, will ultimately create a problem for the agricultural economy “practically but also legally … because you can’t advise (consistently across each state) and that’s a huge problem.”
Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.