Help Farmers Have More Control: Support Free Trade In The Farm Bill

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Will Coggin Senior Research Analyst, Center for Consumer Freedom
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Free trade has been a major topic of discussion in Congress for the past several months, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle have voiced concerns about trade wars and trade barriers. If Congress wants to help free trade stay free, then one easy move is including the Protect Interstate Commerce Act in the final Farm Bill.

The Protect Interstate Commerce Act would override state laws that inhibit free trade in agricultural goods. This is needed because California and Massachusetts have laws banning the sale of affordable, common goods at the supermarket.

The laws stem from ballot measures pushed by radical animal rights groups. In 2008, a coalition of animal rights activists led by the vegan group Humane Society of the United States passed a ballot measure in California that banned the most common housing system for egg-laying hens.

Instead of working to repeal this law, California legislators, who feared egg farmers would move to Nevada, passed a state law banning the sale of all eggs from out-of-state farms that aren’t “California-compliant.”

Activists then spent millions pushing a measure in 2016 in Massachusetts banning the sale of pork and eggs from farms that use common animal husbandry practices, and this year is back in California lobbying for a new measure to restrict future pork sales.

It’s one thing for California to pass onerous regulations on farmers inside the state—it’s an entirely different matter to require farmers outside the state to take orders from California.

The practical effect of this legislation is to try and force farmers into making costly overhauls to their barns — costing millions upon millions. And, predictably, consumers were harmed by this legislation as well.

According to a study from Purdue University, California egg prices were 9-percent higher than they would have been without the restrictive law. Since eggs are price inelastic — demand for eggs doesn’t change due to the price — these costs add up very quickly. Thanks to the vegan lobby’s law, Californians will experience an annual welfare loss of at least $25 million.

California’s law ventures into the domain of interstate commerce, which—as the Constitution makes crystal clear—states have no authority to regulate. Enter the Protect Interstate Commerce Act.

The Farm Bill amendment, proposed by Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, would restore the freedom consumers have to make their own choices about what to buy at the supermarket. The Amendment is in the House version of the Farm Bill, but not the Senate’s. The conference committee is currently considering whether to include it in the final Farm Bill.

If the Amendment is not in the final version, then the stage is set for a domestic trade war — as if farmers weren’t suffering enough from the international tariff escalations.

Imagine a future where states are allowed to pass a checkerboard of their own agricultural regulations. Vermont and Wisconsin might decide to enact their own “standards” to exclude competing dairy products. Kentucky and Tennessee might have their own whiskey wars.

Conceivably, any—or all—of the 50 states could come up with unique “standards” for all sorts of reasons. And then all of a sudden it becomes much more difficult to simply buy meat and produce at the grocery store.

Understandably, that’s not a future Americans, much fewer farmers, are looking forward to.

Instead, imagine a future where Californians go to the supermarket and are able to make their own decisions about whether they want to pay the premium price for “California-compliant” eggs or if they want to stick with the budget-friendly eggs imported from Missouri. Why not have both options?

The amount of choice provided to consumers by farmers and ranchers is incredible and should be protected.

Lawmakers on the Farm Bill conference committee have recognized the importance of free trade. Democratic North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, for instance, recognized that trade wars are “bad news for North Dakota and [create] further uncertainty for our farmers.”

While lawmakers are under pressure from the animal-rights lobby to keep letting California and Massachusetts interfere with agriculture, they must not chicken out on standing up for consumers and farmers.

Will Coggin is the research director for the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington, D.C.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.