Serving Franklin County, WA

Ag laws show first-world mindest

The phrase “first-world problems” has become a punch line – a throwaway statement because it is uttered by people with plenty of gadgets, a reliable food supply and a secure roof over their heads.

It has also dulled our experience of a world in which seasonal food is the reality and some products are hard to get. When everything is available, regardless of season or effort, it is easy to voice shallow moral judgments when it comes to food production and consumption.

Animal rights policies have begun to circulate more freely across the U.S., with varying degrees of success.

The most prominent example of such radical policies is Proposition 12, passed by California voters five years ago, which will cost millions by requiring the expansion of pig stalls from 7-square-feet to 24-square-feet. Under Proposition 12, hog farmers across the U.S. must comply with California’s penning rules, just in case meat from an animal they raised makes its way to consumers in the Golden State.

Some hog farmers saw Proposition 12 as an affirmation of their choice to switch from smaller, more confined penning methods to communal penning. For others, it brought doubts about whether the investment of millions of dollars into changing how animals are housed was worth the gamble in a break-even market.

However, even after a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court declaring Proposition 12 the binding law of the land, the harm imposed by the initiative is still being felt. Congress is currently embroiled in a debate over the End Agricultural Trade Suppression – dubbed EATS – act. The act would effectively nullify Proposition 12, and any other state-based agricultural regulations that would affect other states, by banning such pieces of legislation.

EATS has its own distinct camps of support and opposition. Supporters of the act suggest it is narrow enough to address deficiencies in the Proposition 12 Supreme Court ruling, ensuring states are not held hostage by neighboring states’ ideologies. Opponents claim its passage would affect numerous state laws, interstate commerce and create a regulatory vacuum for states that do not have laws addressing the interstate sale of agricultural goods.

Oregon may soon be grappling with a homegrown animal rights ballot measure in IP-3. The ballot initiative purports to curtail or end the abuse, neglect and assault of animals by piling on to humane treatment of animals laws already in place. This radical proposed law bans hunting, fishing, trapping, pest and insect control, and more.

Why are these proposed laws so extreme? The answer lies, in part, in statements like those made by a graduate student instructor at University of California-Berkley who attacked people living in rural America. “I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans. They, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

City life insulates most people from active participation in how their food is grown and where it comes from. Left-leaning activists like to “forget” about what it means to respect our food sources. But consider the pride some city-dwellers take in fruit and vegetables produced in a garden and amplify that 100-fold; that is the daily experience of being a professional food producer in America.

In the U.S., only about 1.3% of Americans are directly involved in food production (not many decades ago that figure was more than 50%). That means about 4.3 million people – or an average of 86,580 people per state – grow all the locally produced food for everyone else. Put more simply, in a group of 100 people, one or two people are responsible for feeding everyone else.

With odds like that, it is easy to see why so many ballot initiatives do not respect agriculture: the sponsors do not have any real proximity to food production as part of their daily lives. Understanding that, in northern climates, strawberries are not readily available in December without being shipped from another part of the country or world is challenging. Similarly, embracing that animals raised for meat can be cared for, even loved, and still be considered a food source only comes when people live in harmony with that food source.

Good policy should not impose a false moral standard upon an entire country or even a state. Proposition 12 and IP-3, both of which aim to limit or ban meat production, impose an artificial moral code of one community onto another.

It is an urban-based political code that activists practice in comfortable security provided by the daily work of rural Americans.

Spouting moral tropes while having one’s basic needs provided by others is the very definition of a “first world problem.”

— Pam Lewison is the Center for Agriculture Director at the Washington Policy Center. Email her at [email protected].


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