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Mother pig in gestation crate Mother pig in gestation crate

The EATS Act explained: The latest threat to farmed animals


As the U.S. Supreme Court rules to uphold Prop 12, a law that allows more space for animals in factory farms, members of Congress introduced a new bill that threatens to erase this law and decades of legal progress for farmed animals.

In a significant decision this year, the United States Supreme Court sided with animals and California’s voters by upholding Proposition 12 (Prop 12) with a 5-4 majority. Prop 12 sets minimum protection requirements for mother pigs, calves raised for veal, and hens used in the egg industry, ensuring they are housed with enough room to stand up and turn around. However, the meat industry is fighting back with a piece of legislation known as the EATS Act.

If the EATS Act is approved, it could pose a threat to Proposition 12 and numerous other laws regulating animal protection policies, food safety, and public health. While the EATS Act has faced previous failures, the meat industry has appealed to certain members of Congress for support. 

What is the EATS Act?

The EATS Act, short for “Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression,” is being spearheaded by Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Representative Ashley Hinson (R-IA). The proposed legislation has the potential to disrupt not only cage-free laws but also a wide range of state and local regulations governing agriculture.

The EATS Act seeks to limit the power of individual states to set their own standards for agricultural products. Its primary aim is to prevent states from enforcing regulations on animal products that are produced outside their borders and then imported for sale within the state.

The new legislation is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Prop 12, which is considered the most robust farmed animal protection law in the US. Prop 12 passed in 2018 when Californians voted to set stronger standards for mother pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens, who typically spend their lives in tiny cages. The law requires these animals to have enough space to turn around and move comfortably. 

By passing this legislation, products produced in California, and ones brought into the state to sell, must come from suppliers that meet the minimum space requirements for animals outlined by the law. The pork industry, having spent years fighting Prop 12, went to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) to have the law overruled. 

Ultimately, SCOTUS upheld Prop 12, giving the voice back to animals and California’s voters.

In a further attempt to protect the profits from animal agriculture, the EATS Act was introduced as a last-ditch effort to strike down Prop 12 and laws like it. 

History of the King Amendment

The origins of the EATS Act can be linked to former Iowa Republican Representative Steve King. The King Amendment, which serves as a model for the EATS Act, aims to override state-level regulations on agricultural products. 

For example, if a state has laws to improve factory farming standards, other states wouldn’t have to follow those rules when selling their products there. This means products produced in potentially cruel or unsafe conditions could be sold, even if most citizens in that state disagree.

Critics argue that both the King Amendment and the EATS Act prioritize economic interests over ethics, giving the agricultural industry control over production standards across state lines. This could force states with strong regulations to accept products from states with weaker rules, undermining the rights of citizens who are fighting for animal protection laws and consumer rights.

As a “marker bill”—a bill aimed at being added to a larger piece of legislation—supporters of the EATS Act hope to include all or parts of the legislation into the 2023 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill outlines how federal dollars are spent to influence food production. Decision-makers seek to influence the US food system by leveraging the Farm Bill’s far-reaching impact, which is renewed every five years in Congress. 

The Farm Bill holds the potential for positive change, benefiting animals and marginalized communities. But the factory farming industry and opponents of animal advocacy groups have attempted to add provisions to the bill that would undermine progress for animals. In 2014 and 2018, Rep. King (R-IA) managed to get an amendment almost identical to the EATS Act into the House versions of the Farm Bill, but it never made it into the final version.

With the controversy surrounding California’s’ Prop 12, supporters of the EATS Act feel they have a better shot at getting it into this year’s Farm Bill than when King was in office.

How the EATS Act Poses a Threat to Animals

The EATS Act poses a significant threat to animals, particularly those trapped in the factory farming industry. 

Here are some examples of what the future could hold for animals:

  • Mother Pigs: One of the major targets of animal protection laws like California’s Proposition 12 is improving the conditions for mother pigs. Under the EATS Act, factory farms would continue to confine mother pigs to so-called ‘gestation crates.’ These crates offer only enough space to take one step forward or back. Within these confined spaces, animals are deprived of all freedoms, unable to turn around or lie down. 
  • Hens: The EATS Act threatens the confinement of hens used for egg production. Hens are confined to ‘battery cages’ that only allow the animals a living space the size of a sheet of paper. In these incredibly cramped spaces, they are unable to move freely or spread their wings, spending their entire lives in restrictive conditions alongside numerous other hens. Such conditions not only cause immense suffering but also increase the risk of disease transmission in these densely packed environments.
  • Pandemic Risk: Factory farming is known for overcrowding animals in unclean settings, making it perfect for zoonotic diseases to arise and spread. By restricting states from implementing stricter regulations on factory farms, the EATS Act could increase the likelihood of more epidemics occurring in the future.
Piglet in a factory farm

SAVE ANIMALS FROM ABUSE

Pigs, cows, and other animals feel pain and deserve to be protected from abuse.

You can protect these intelligent animals by simply choosing plant‑based alternatives.

Undermining State Laws: The Implications of the EATS Act

Beyond animal welfare concerns, the EATS Act threatens states’ rights by undermining their ability to enforce their own standards for agricultural products sold within their borders. Consumers and state governments could be forced to accept products that fall short of their established standards.

A 48-page study by the Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School outlines the risks of the EATS Act, which extend to “states’ rights, consumer safety, and farmers’ livelihoods,” as reported by Food Safety News.

Moreover, the potential consequences of the EATS Act go beyond animal protection laws. Laws pertaining to the environment, pesticide use, child labor, and even puppy mills could be overturned if the EATS Act becomes law.

United Against the EATS Act: Take a Stand for Animals

The EATS Act poses a significant threat to factory farming animals and individual states’ ability to protect their citizens. 

By taking action today, you can make a difference in the lives of animals suffering in the profit-driven factory farming industry. Your voice can be a powerful force in advocating for these innocent creatures and promoting a future where all animals are respected and protected. 

Act now and be a part of the movement to end the cruel practices of factory farming and pave the way for a more compassionate and sustainable world for all living beings.