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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. Here’s how the EATS Act would jeopardize the lives of animals and public health if passed…
July 28, 2023 Updated: May 22, 2024
Mother pig in gestation crate Mother pig in gestation crate

Update 5/21/24: Public pressure on Congress has resulted in the abandonment of the EATS Act as a stand alone bill. However, House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson has shared his proposed Farm Bill, which includes EATS-like language.

While the Farm Bill is an opportunity to enhance protections for farmed animals and consumers, Thompson’s language closely resembles the EATS Act, threatening states’ rights to protect animals. 

This Farm Bill proposal could overturn Proposition 12 and other state laws. States with higher animal protection standards could be forced to allow the sale of animal products from states with lower animal protection standards. This includes states where extreme confinement for mother pigs and calves is still allowed by law.

Despite industry claims that Proposition 12 would cause steep price increases for animal products, experts have observed otherwise. Recent research indicates that prices in California have risen only marginally–by as little as a penny per egg1–while pig meat prices outside the state have decreased due to an oversupply of non-compliant products. Animal advocates argue that the industry’s exaggerated claims should not influence the Farm Bill’s outcome.


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. California’s Proposition 12 is the strongest farmed animal protection law in US history. 

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 extreme confinement 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, calves used for veal, and hens used for eggs, who typically spend their lives in tiny cages. The law requires these animals to have enough space to turn around and move comfortably. 

This image is representative of a farm that uses gestation crates

By passing this legislation, items produced in California–and ones brought into the state to sell–must come from suppliers that meet the minimum space requirements for animals. The meat 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, and not the animals, 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 items 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’s 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. However, it can also be exploited for harmful purposes. 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 never made it into the final version.

With the controversy from the meat industry 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.

Moreover, the potential consequences of the EATS Act extend 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 Farm Bill: Take a Stand for Animals

While the EATS Act is no longer a threat as a stand alone bill, the current Farm Bill includes language that closely resembles this harmful law. 

By taking action today, you have the opportunity to make a difference for farmed animals. Act now and become part of the movement to end cruelty in the factory farming industry. 

You can also protect animals by choosing plant-based proteins with the help of Love Veg. Sign up to receive your free, digital cookbook today.

Chicken outdoors

CHOOSE LOVE

Chickens are emotionally complex animals capable of empathy and forming special bonds with fellow animals.

Protect these sensitive and social animals by choosing plant‑based alternatives.


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