Food processors, handlers, growers, and warehousers in the United States must deal with rules enacted by local, state, and federal authorities. In some cases, managing regulations at so many levels can create problems, as the agencies aren’t always in line with each other. One example of this state-versus-federal conundrum is the legalization of marijuana by state, a subject that we’ve examined several times in Food Quality & Safety. At the federal level, cannabis is deemed a dangerous substance; however, it is now legal in many states—a situation that has created a raft of issues.
There have been and remain significant issues concerning the differences between a state’s rights and how the federal government might interpret things. This is not new; we’ve seen this crop up in the food industry time and again. Several years ago, Connecticut and Maine enacted regulations mandating the labeling of genetically modified (GM) foods sold in those states, rules that would have, among other things, been an impediment to interstate commerce. This situation was wonderfully addressed by Don Butte and Jeffrey Whitesell in a 2013 FQ&S article called “GM Labeling for Different States?” The authors contend that GM labeling was a violation of the First Amendment and that such actions would violate the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This clause says that states have the right to regulate domestic commerce where there is no federal regulation in the area, but that the exercise of that right cannot impede, discriminate against, or burden interstate commerce.
There is a similar issue looming on the horizon, scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2022. This is California’s Proposition 12, which mandates humane raising of pigs, chickens, and calves that are earmarked for processing in the state. I invite you to read the article, “Will Californians Be Able to Bring Home the Bacon in 2022?” by Shawn Stevens and Joel Chappelle that appears on page 10 of this issue, which summarizes the legislation and details potential implications for producers. The proposition says that the animals can no longer be crammed into cages and must have a minimum amount of space in which to roam around. Currently, very few producers meet these requirements, and some estimate that the regulation will increase pork prices significantly and affect husbandry operations in other states, because much of the meat consumed in California is delivered via interstate commerce. Is the regulation a good idea or a bad one? It would seem that enforcement of this proposition violates the issues described in the GM article referenced above.
Additionally, is it really true that the humane raising of calves, pigs, and chickens makes for a happier, healthier, and better-tasting option? I don’t know, but there are certainly some negatives that crop up. A 2017 NPR piece detailed the story of a Georgia farmer who set out to raise free-range chickens. Well, guess what? Eagles found that free-range chickens are easy prey and, since bald eagles are protected, the farmer had to obtain the government’s blessing to try and control them, which precludes harming the eagles.
Sometimes, you don’t get what you hope for.