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Ginger, center, with the voice of Julia Sawalha, and fellow chickens plan their escape from Tweedy Ginger, center, with the voice of Julia Sawalha, and fellow chickens plan their escape from Tweedy''s Egg Farm in the clay animation comedy ''Chicken Run'' premiering June 23, 2000. (Photo by DreamWorks)  

Iowa congressman outflanks the animal rights movement

Photo of David Martosko
David Martosko
Executive Editor

Thanks to a 2008 ballot measure bankrolled by the powerful Humane Society of the United States, California’s egg-laying hens will get expensive new accommodations by 2015, and there’s little anyone can do about it. But Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King aims to contain the financial damage to as few farmers as possible.

Last week King managed to add an amendment to the 2012 farm bill that would undercut the animal rights movement’s larger aim, spelled out in a companion law that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in 2010. That law, the first of its kind, prevents other states’ farmers from selling eggs in California that don’t meet the costly new standard.

The new hen cages required for California egg producers are far larger than what is now the industry standard. Scientific opinions are mixed on the question of whether there will be a net animal welfare benefit.

A seven-year gap between the law’s passage and its 2015 implementation was meant to give California egg producers enough time to buy new equipment, but farmers in other states whose eggs make it to California would have less than three years to catch up.

The House Committee on Agriculture passed King’s “Protect Interstate Commerce Act” on Thursday night, slipping it into the five-year farm legislation on a voice vote. Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle watched, shaking his head, as his multimillion-dollar, multi-year push threatening to make the incredible, edible egg more expensive came to a screeching — if temporary — halt.

On his blog, Pacelle called the measure “almost certainly unconstitutional,” and accused King of opposing “any laws to protect animals, and perhaps … laws to protect the environment, workers, or public safety.” But neither he nor any other spokespersons from the wealthy animal rights group would defend that statement when The Daily Caller asked about King’s Thursday surprise.

The congressman, however, was happy to discuss the thinking behind it.

“This is right. This is the fix we need,” King told TheDC on Friday. “It doesn’t fix everything, but it fixes the states and their political subdivisions regulating food production everywhere in America from a single location — in violation of the Commerce Clause [of the U.S. Constitution].”

Calling the constant battles between farmers and animal rights activists a game of “high-stakes poker,” King chuckled about Pacelle’s post-game complaints. ”When I read his blog,” he said, “wow — it was more effective than even I thought.”

Most of the farming sector agrees with King that the Humane Society of the United States, whose 2012 federal income tax return showed net assets of $187.5 million at the end of that year, is a danger to the continuing viability of animal agriculture. (RELATED: Animal rights group to sue pork farmers over … paperwork problems?)

Pacelle is a dietary vegan, meaning that he eats nothing sourced from animals — including milk, eggs and honey. His organization is not an umbrella group for the thousands of humane societies that shelter lost pets, and doesn’t manage any of them. But it does advocate vegetarianism — a position that makes some in production agriculture suspicious that Pacelle’s goal is to eventually eliminate their line of work.

His deputies have on occasion given farmers reason to worry. In October 2006, Miyun Park, one of Pacelle’s vice presidents, conceded during an animal rights conference that ”we don’t want any of these [farm] animals to be raised and killed. But … we don’t have the luxury of waiting until we have the opportunity to get rid of the entire industry.”

King released a statement Thursday night promising that his amendment “will ensure that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.”