Editorials, Opinion

Morrisey all about ‘states’ rights’ — unless it’s Calif.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey seems to thoroughly enjoy wasting taxpayer money by jumping on the most frivolous bandwagons.

This time around, he’s joined 15 other state attorneys general to urge Congress to pass the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act, which is a direct response to California’s Proposition 12. 

For context, California voters passed Prop 12 in 2018. The law partially bans “inhumane” production of pigs, eggs and veal and the sale of inhumanely produced pigs, eggs and veal within the state of California. It would require farms to provide a set minimum amount of space — enough for the animals to move around and “turn freely” — for some breeding pigs, egg-laying hens and calves raised for veal. Producers would have to self-certify that they meet the minimum requirements, and sellers can’t be penalized as long as they have a copy of that self-certification.

Opponents of Prop 12 claim it would force the entire pork industry to overhaul how it operates to appease one single state. (Which isn’t quite true, since 13 other states regulate “cage-free” production and/or sales of eggs, pigs and/or veal, according to the Humane Society.)

The National Pork Producers Council, with the support of 26 state attorneys general (including West Virginia), sued California. The case ended up before the Supreme Court — which shockingly sided with California in a 5-4 vote this past May.

Once the Supreme Court challenge failed, opponents began turning to Congress, pushing for it to pass the EATS Act, which would “prevent States and local jurisdictions from interfering with the production and distribution of agricultural products in interstate commerce.” Basically, it would nullify Prop 12 and similar laws in 13 other states.

We could get into the moral arguments about the living conditions of animals raised for consumption, but that’s not what all of this is about. It’s about conservative politicians venerating “states’ rights” until a state does something they don’t like — particularly if that state leans blue. And we say that because cage-free laws like Prop 12 — some of which date back to 2008 and are on the books in states like Kentucky and Florida (production) and Nevada and Arizona (production and sale) — weren’t a problem until California decided to do it.

Federal laws are meant to establish the lowest uniform standard for something — whether that be pollution limits, minimum wages or space for raising pigs — not to set the cap. California is well within its rights to set stricter standards for what can be produced and sold within its borders. And while California is a big customer (consuming 13% of the nation’s pork), producers can respond by declining to sell their products to California if they don’t wish to comply with the new standards.

Besides, Prop 12 is most likely to affect industrial, large-scale producers that keep thousands of animals in a comparatively small space — not something we have in West Virginia, which means we don’t have a pig (or a hen) in this fight. If anything, Prop 12 could make West Virginia’s family-farm-raised cattle and calves more appealing to California and open up economic opportunity for our state.

Congress needs to shelve the EATS Act, and Morrisey needs to stop jumping on bandwagons just because other red states are doing it.