The Protect Interstate Commerce Act Offers State Trade Solution
By Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
The food standards maintained by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keep food in our country safe. Imagine going to the grocery store, and instead of finding several varieties of food products, only certain brands are available and many are out of stock. This is exactly what is happening in Europe. The Wall Street Journal has reported that egg prices have jumped as much as 76.5 percent as of March of this year, and the price of eggs has more than doubled in the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2012, the result of costly over regulation of chickens.
Our Founding Fathers understood states would erect trade barriers against each other. That is why the enumerated power of Congress, to exclusively regulate interstate commerce, is enshrined in our Constitution. They knew that if states were left to themselves, the temptation to erect trade barriers in an effort to protect the interests of the producers within their borders would be hard to overcome. And they knew that, in doing so, the states would stunt the growth of our nation's economy and put America at a competitive disadvantage on the world stage.
No matter what state they live in, consumers in America should be provided with the choices they want to make at the grocery store. The United States Constitution gives Congress the power to "regulate commerce... among the several states" (Article II, Sec. 8, Clause 3). In recent years, we have seen a movement growing among several states to exercise broad new trade protection powers in regulating products including ethanol, pork, beef, poultry, and eggs from entering their borders from other states. I saw that some states are ignoring the commerce clause and creating their own restrictions on agriculture products. For more than a year, I refined the solution. During the marathon markup of the 2012 Farm Bill, I offered an amendment that reinforces the appropriate role of the Commerce Clause, and simply says that states cannot regulate the trade of agricultural products from another state based on that products means of production.
The Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA) prohibits a state from enacting laws that place any restrictions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders but are produced in other states. For example, California has passed a law mandating that no eggs can be brought into or sold in the state if they are not laid by hens housed in "humane" facilities and has given farmers until 2015 to comply with these new standards. This restriction places an incredible burden on farmers across the nation to spend up to as much as $40 per hen to completely restructure entire farming operations. Regardless of how they're produced, eggs are already regulated by the Federal Egg Inspection Act, which ensures all eggs entering interstate commerce are safe for the consumer. States will be prohibited from a state-by-state haphazard patchwork of means of production regulations that will severely undermine our nation's economy. It is unconstitutional for Iowa farmers, for example, who strenuously work to follow the law, to be told by other states how to care for their animals. This law dramatically impacts American producers, and my amendment will help farmers across the nation produce safe and healthy products that will continue to be sold in all 50 states and also restores the Commerce Clause as it is written in the Constitution.
It is important to note, however, that PICA would not prevent a state from implementing its own labeling policies for products sold within its borders. States wishing to do so could still craft labeling regulations notifying consumers about the conditions in which a product is produced.
Our nation's farmers cannot wait for both passage of the Farm Bill and my amendment. The inclusion of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution was a deliberate act to ensure that the American people would reap the benefits of a strong, national economy. As a lifelong Iowan, I understood from a young age that all new wealth comes from the land. Recent efforts by some states to erect trade barriers through means of production regulations must be addressed by Congress, and PICA will ensure its ability to do so. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee I will push for a vote on this Farm Bill on the floor of the House so that it spurs positive growth in our economy. It is important to me that producers have stability and predictability in today's markets. I will continue to make agricultural issues a top priority because issues like interstate commerce have a direct impact on all Americans.