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Vegetarians and Meat Eaters Are Trying to Stifle Interstate Commerce

Federal legislation may be the only solution to overreaching state laws.

Aleyev Yegor/ZUMA Press/NewscomAleyev Yegor/ZUMA Press/NewscomNearly a decade ago, vegetarian and vegan activists in California scored a policy victory that raised the stakes for meat consumers across the country. Assembly Bill No. 1437, signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, prohibited California poultry farmers from housing their hens in subjectively small cages. This was a huge policy change in and of itself, but the law contained an even more far-reaching provision: an eventual ban on the sale of all eggs laid in such a cage, even if the chickens were raised in another state.

These types of laws can cut the opposite way as well. In Missouri, legislators are currently considering a ban on labelling products as "meat" if they come from plant matter or were grown in a lab, regardless of how closely they resemble actual animal meat.

In both cases, state legislators are attempting to regulate interstate commerce, but that's not their job.

Enter H.R. 4879, the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA). The bill is intended to invalidate a growing number of state anti-meat, pro-vegan laws. In addition to removing barriers to interstate commerce in "agricultural products," the law would create a private right of action, meaning any producer, marketer, or consumer impacted by a state law that burdens such commerce could sue the state to recover damages.

In a press release last month, bill author Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) says passage of his legislation would stem the tide of out-of-state regulation of agriculture production.

"States do not have the Constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce; the United States Congress does," says King, referring to Congress's plenary power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce under the Constitution's Commerce Clause. "If California, or any other state, wants to regulate how products are made within their borders, they can do so. But Iowa's producers should not be held hostage to the demands of California's Vegan Lobby and California's regulatory agencies."

California is squarely the target of the law, as King states. And California deserves this law. Back in 2010, I wrote a law-review article critical of the state's unprecedented burdening of interstate (and intrastate) commerce: The "California Effect" & the Future of American Food: How California's Growing Crackdown on Food & Agriculture Harms the State & the Nation.

Examples of state laws that could fall under PICA include ones I've written about recently. Atop the list is California's foie gras ban. (I recently wrote an amicus brief on behalf of Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason, and the Cato Institute in support of foie gras producers and sellers who are fighting the California ban.) A Massachusetts animal-rights law—which expands on the California animal enclosure law and which I wrote about here—would also be illegal under PICA.

In short, PICA would strike down bad animal-rights laws that interfere with interstate commerce while also preventing other states from adopting similar laws in the future. Not surprisingly, animal-rights groups are apoplectic over the bill.

"Rep. King's amendment could undercut the will of the people and force states and localities to allow the sale of dangerous and inhumanely-produced products," the Humane Society of the United States says in a recent action alert. "It is the single largest threat to animals in the United States."

But it turns out the bill could also overturn state pro-meat or anti-vegan laws such as the ban on use of the term "meat" now under consideration in Missouri. If Missouri livestock farmers get their way, the state "would specifically prohibit the use of the term 'meat' on products that don't come from animals," the New Food Economy reported last week.

Missouri's bill makes the potential reach of PICA particularly interesting. Congress and federal agencies are already grappling with the looming arrival of lab-grown meats (meat products crafted from cultured animal cells, rather than from living animals).

I was alerted to the Missouri bill recently by Don Carr, a friend and senior advisor with the Environmental Working Group who was working on a post for his personal blog, The Republic of Awesome, exploring whether and how PICA might invalidate the Missouri law. As I told Carr, I'm pretty sure PICA would do just that.

That's music to some ears, even among those who oppose PICA.

"That Rep. King's misguided bill would likely preempt a state law that he may favor just shows the futility of trying to legislate away local democracy," said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, in an email to me this week.

PICA could strike down bad state laws that interfere with interstate commerce in food. Unintentionally, the law could strike down such laws regardless of the qualities of the agricultural products in question—regardless of whether a food is preferred by omnivores, carnivores, or vegans. That's a feature, not a flaw. And its reach may expand beyond food. Should the federal government take the unthinkable-yet-inevitable step to legalize the interstate shipment and sale of marijuana, PICA could also prohibit states from banning pot.

Ultimately, PICA could be a real boon to those who actually want to, you know, protect interstate commerce. And that's a good thing.

Photo Credit: Aleyev Yegor/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Too late, you've egged me on!

    Is Baylen Linnekin just a nomnomnom de plume?

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Eeeeggcellent

    [steeples hands and drums fingers together]

  • Zebra Jr.||

    When these red neck states outlaw marijuana that isn't banned in another state you could argue the banning state is regulating interstate commerce so how does King answer that contradiction?

  • Zebra Jr.||

    Damn maybe I should read the article next time.

  • Zebra Jr.||

    States are constantly impacting interstate commerce with state laws. Speed limits on interstate travel are perfect examples. If Montana allows people to drive 80 mph on interstates why should Iowa have the right to disrupt interstate travel with a 70 mph limit? King's legislation could be an unconstitutional infringement on state power.

  • brec||

    The Dormant Commerce Clause, a venerable constitutional law doctrine, is the principle that Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce (IC), and so states may not unduly burden IC unless there is a relevant non-preemptive federal statute allowing the state action.

    I doubt that a court would find 70 mph an undue burden on IC. It's not a clear-cut doctrine, because it requires a balancing of state/local interests versus the burden placed on IC. SCOTUS found that a state law regulating the width and weight of trucks was OK, but one that limited the number of cars per train was unconstitutional.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Should the federal government take the unthinkable-yet-inevitable step to legalize the interstate shipment and sale of marijuana, PICA could also prohibit states from banning pot.

    Obviously there would have to be a carve out.

  • vek||

    I don't see how this ship hasn't sailed a million years ago... Tons of state laws could be argued to interfere with interstate commerce by the definition used here.

    As far as things go, I sometimes WANT to like laws that limit what dumb stuff states can do... But on the other hand I firmly believe letting the randomness of good and bad laws at the state level sort themselves out is a good thing.

    Also I'm not an anti labeling law zealot. I don't think things should be BANNED, but requiring lab grown meat to be labeled as such... I don't see how that's anything wrong. That's just an anti-fraud bill IMO.

  • gormadoc||

    How is that anti-fraud?

  • SIV||

    It's fraud to label something as "meat" when its not made out of an animal.

  • gormadoc||

    Yes, but it's not fraud if they just choose not to label it as lab-grown meat. Like I don't have to label my milk as coming from Derry cows even if it does; legislation that forces that isn't anti-fraud.

  • vek||

    But it's not "meat" in any real sense. I guarantee it won't have the texture or exact nutritional value found in natural meat, and I bet it won't taste exactly the same either. You can taste the difference between grass fed and corn fed, you think lab grown won't have it's own weird qualities too?

    If your product is so undesirable that you feel the need to NOT label it what it is... Maybe you should improve the product. I might buy lab grown meat, but I'd want to know what it was.

    To me this is like real vanilla versus artificial vanilla flavor. They both taste really similar, but I want to know what it is. I've bought both for vanilla, but I sure as heck don't want to pay extra for the fake stuff because they can label it vanilla extract when it's not!

  • Harvard||

    Tell me, why is it important to the laboratory producers that they call their product "meat", rather than something else, like Soylent Green or some such, when the definition since time immemorial has meant animal flesh? Almost like calling the cohabitation of people of like sexes "marriage".

  • Agammamon||

    Same reason vegan/vegetarians like calling birdseed patties 'burgers' and making them taste like meat (for very generous definitions of 'taste').

    The real question is - how many people are going to justify using violence to stop this by saying its 'to prevent consumer confusion'? Confusion that doesn't exist for any other product that is intended to substitute for another class - like soy milk or eggless mayo.

  • swampwiz||

    It seems that all plant burgers are called "veggie burgers". I think that this processed plant matter is supposed to actually taste like beef, with the animal protein & fat that goes along with it.

  • gormadoc||

    So the meat of a coconut is animal flesh?

    Besides, it's certainly not time immemorial. The word "meat"/"mete" meant food of any sort in Middle English and was still used as such in the 20th century.

  • swampwiz||

    Having fake beef tastes as good as real beef reminds of the scene in "The Matrix" where the guy (the actor was the pimp in "Risky Business") who got seduced to become a traitor because The Matrix was able to simulate a good steak dinner for him.

    If Big Ag can make soy taste & feel like steak, I'm all for it, but don't call it "beef"; call it "simulated beef".

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I'm still none the wiser about what this "not meat" is. Is it not actual tissue grown from stem cells in a labobratory? Like, instead of raising an entire cow, scienticians just make the parts the market demands.

    Or am I way off and it's actually plant matter like what veggie burgers have been made from since whenever they became a thing?

  • santamonica811||

    "...prohibited California poultry farmers from housing their hens in subjectively small cages..."

    You meant to say, "...in **objectively** small cages. The law did not say, "...if we feel like a cage is too small, . . ." It laid out specific requirements (large enough for the animal to to stand/sit, turn around, etc).

    Now, you might disagree with someone's definition of "small." That's fine. But the law was the opposite of subjective. Indeed, it would be unenforceable if it was subjective..."It is illegal to...if an inspector sees a cage and has a feeling in his/her gut that it's too small." There's you'd have a legit complaint.

    Confusing 'subjective' and "objective" is a pretty common mistake. No big deal. (But it's worth pointing out, so it can be a teachable moment for your readers.)

  • wnoise||

    States have plenary police powers. States have traditionally been able to define what's contraband and can't be sold in-state. CA's law does nothing preventing eggs from small cages in AZ being sent to TX or even to OR (where they might conceivably be shipped through CA).

  • Procyon Mustelid||

    I do not understand why it should/would be constitutional for a state to regulate its producers but not its consumers.

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