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Explainer: The EATS Act and the threat to States’ Rights

Every five years the United States Congress must reauthorize the Farm Bill, a massive omnibus and appropriations bill that funds many of the agriculture and food programs that so many families rely on in the United States. In addition to appropriations, the Farm Bill shapes much of the agriculture and food system policy at the Federal level that impacts all of us – everything from the food we eat to the environmental programs that protect critical habitat, as well as many of the nutrition programs such as SNAP that food insecure families rely on in the United States. The current Farm Bill expired in 2023 and was extended into 2024.  

 

While the Farm Bill is a critical policy package and touches many aspects of rural, food and agriculture policy, state and local governments also have the ability to shape their local food system by passing legislation that they feel suits the needs of their residents. For example, states will sometimes enact new rules relating to child labor on farms, animal welfare for farmed animals or the siting of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) – sometimes referred to as “factory farms”  – in rural communities. 

 

In an effort to prevent states from enacting new rules that are stronger than federal policy, the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (S.2019 and H.R.4417), or EATS Act(1)  is being actively considered for inclusion in the next Farm Bill. The EATS Act is a classic preemption of state and local authority and, if passed, would have a direct impact on the ability of state legislators to pass critical policy related to food, agriculture, rural, and environmental issues impacting their communities. It should not come as a surprise that proponents backing the EATS Act include multinational corporations and many commodity groups representing agribusiness interests. . 

  

Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Program has reviewed the implications of the EATS Act, and reports that more than 1,000 state and local laws would be in jeopardy of being overturned should the EATS Act pass. 

 

The broad language included in the EATS Act means that a variety of state laws would be impacted including:

  • State laws regulating chemical and pesticide-use in produce and baby food
  • State laws regulating the permitting of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
  • State laws regulating child labor and other worker safety
  • State bans on the sale of animal products from extreme confinement in cages and crates
  • State regulation of puppy mill welfare standards

 

Additionally, state and local governments would constantly be at risk of costly litigation over any new laws regulating agricultural production or the sale of agricultural products within their jurisdiction. 

 

Though there is a long way to go to pass the Farm Bill in 2024, state legislators, congressional delegates, and grassroots advocates across the country are concerned about the precedent set by the EATS Act and similar pre-emptive language that would put communities, economies, and our food system at risk. This bi-partisan concern shows that policies that restrict the ability of policymakers and their communities to determine what is right for them is not a winning issue. 

 

Despite the lack of support for the EATS Act, agribusiness entities continue to use every tool available to them and as recently as January 2024, a new version of the bill has been introduced in Congress by supporters of the EATS Act. The Protecting Interstate Commerce for Livestock Producers Act, is a slimmed down version of the EATS Act that preempts state regulation of livestock producers using similar language to the EATS Act. 

 

State legislators can continue to push back against these types of power-grabs by agribusiness corporations by working alongside rural communities to create a safe, viable, and equitable food and farming system for all. 

 

How State Legislators Can Take Action: 

 

Though the Farm Bill happens at the federal level, state legislators have a role to play in protecting state’s rights. Check out some of the activities below for State Legislators: 

  • Learn more about what state bills might be impacted by the passage of the EATS Act or similar language. 
  • Join other state legislators in a legislator sign-on letter opposing the EATS Act and any similar language for inclusion in the Farm Bill. 
  • Contact your congressional delegation and let them know why you oppose the EATS Act. 
  • Circulate a constituent sign-on letter opposing the EATS Act. 
  • Coming soon! Register for an upcoming SiX webinar on The EATS Act and learn more about a national movement backed by corporate agribusiness  to pre-empt state and local control. 
  • Learn more about pre-emption in your state and state Right to Farm laws. 
  • Sign-up for the Cohort for Rural Opportunity and Prosperity to join with other state legislators in creating sustainable and equitable food, farm, and rural policy for all communities. 

 


 

Did you know? 

Pre-emptive state and federal policy is a common tactic used by large agribusiness corporations to further their bottom-line while exploiting rural communities, farmers, and natural resources. For example, state Right to Farm laws pushed by the American Farm Bureau under the guise of protecting farmers, actually ties the hands of local communities and policymakers to protect themselves from polluting industries such as CAFOS, anaerobic manure digesters also known as biogas, natural gas pipelines, fracking and more. 


 

(1) This is not to be confused with the Enhancing Access to SNAP Act (EATS Act) introduced by Senator Gillibrand to help communities and families access food. Find out more about the Gillibrand EATS Act here.

Sign up for the CROP!

The Cohort for Rural Opportunity and Prosperity (CROP) serves as a virtually convening space for legislators who are working on policies that promote healthy and thriving rural communities through ecologically and socially-responsible agriculture and local, direct-market food systems.