The EATS Act: Lawmakers’ Big Gift to Big Ag in this Farm Bill

Published May 24, 2024


Food System

A new draft of the Farm Bill includes language from the EATS Act, threatening state regulations on agriculture and handing a massive win to Big Ag.

A new draft of the Farm Bill includes language from the EATS Act, threatening state regulations on agriculture and handing a massive win to Big Ag.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared on the website of Food & Water Action (our affiliated organization) at an earlier date.

Last year, the Supreme Court affirmed a huge win for state authority to regulate agricultural goods. It upheld a California law that only allows the sale of pork, veal, and eggs from animals raised in improved living conditions.

But Big Ag and its cronies in Congress couldn’t let this go without a fight. Soon after, Senator Roger Marshall introduced a bill called the “Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression (EATS) Act.” Now, House lawmakers have slipped some of EATS into their first draft of the Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is our country’s cornerstone piece of food and agriculture legislation, renegotiated and passed every five years. If EATS were included in the final version, this would effectively end many states’ regulations on the livestock and pesticide industries. This deregulation would help Big Ag get bigger by giving corporations free rein to use the cheapest, most damaging practices they can.

EATS Would Lead to Sweeping Deregulation

For years, states have been empowered to enact stronger food and agriculture protections than federal law and carry them out with local authority. However, the House Farm Bill draft threatens that precedent.

It includes EATS language to target state regulations on “covered livestock,” including the meat and dairy industries. The draft also includes similar language preempting state and local rules on pesticide labeling. 

Such preemptions mean states cannot create their own regulations and must default to federal standards — many of which are weak or nonexistent. This would effectively lead to deregulation and would gut states’ right to set standards for many agricultural products sold within their borders. 

As a result, Big Meat could use cheaper, more harmful practices in more places, and chemical giants could more easily sell toxic pesticides.

Big Ag Has Its Hands All Over EATS

The EATS Act and its new Farm Bill iteration exist as a direct result of powerful food corporations meddling with our politics. It was first introduced in response to California’s Prop 12, a major victory to regulate the animal agriculture industry.

Californians were clearly in favor, with 60% in support. But the pork industry took Prop 12 to federal court, claiming that it violated the Constitution. Nevertheless, the Court ruled in favor of the law.

In fighting Prop 12, Big Ag once again showed that it will stop at nothing to gain even more control over our food system — in this case, by attempting to tear down state regulations. Since it was introduced, the EATS Act gained the support of agribusiness lobbying organizations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the Farm Bureau.

So it’s no wonder that EATS language has made it into this Farm Bill draft. In fact, Big Ag corporations and lobbying groups have been dumping cash into Congress before the ink dried on the last Farm Bill.

From 2019 to 2023, they’ve spent more than $500 million to lobby lawmakers, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. They’ve also donated millions to the campaigns of several Congressmembers key to crafting the Farm Bill.

The Political Game of EATS in the Farm Bill

As negotiations continue, the inclusion of outrageous measures like EATS in this Farm Bill draft makes clear the galling strategy of extremists in the House. Using it as an opening move tips negotiations closer to chaos. This is a terrible show of bad-faith bargaining.

What’s more, it’s deeply hypocritical. The same lawmakers pushing this language are those whom we can usually count on to pontificate about states’ rights. Yet, they’re aiming to deny states the ability to protect their residents with regulations on what gets sold within their borders.

This also flies in the face of historical Congressional collaboration on competition measures. Far from “ending trade suppression” between states, EATS just helps Big Ag grow. Deregulation will allow corporations to pursue even more cost-cutting measures than they already do. This will in turn hasten corporate consolidation in the name of profit. 

That doesn’t sound like competition to us.

We Can’t Let EATS Slip Through This Farm Bill

These additions to the House Farm Bill draft are infuriating but not surprising. It’s the latest example of lawmakers bending to corporate interests over the well-being of their own constituents. But we can’t let these measures slip through. They threaten regulations that protect human health and animal welfare, and they would cut off a crucial avenue for reining in Big Ag. 

Food & Water Watch is organizing to stop harmful, corporate-backed measures from passing in the Farm Bill. The only antidote to entrenched, moneyed power in our political system is people power. With the Farm Bill’s next September deadline looming, we’re doubling down on our efforts to fight for a fair Farm Bill for all

Join our fight! Tell your representatives to support a fair Farm Bill that puts families and farmers before Big Ag.


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