The House Agriculture Committee added language to its version of the farm bill earlier this year prohibiting any state from imposing certain production standards on agricultural products sold in interstate commerce.
The provision, authored by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, is aimed at a California law scheduled to take effect in 2015. If implemented, the legislation requires all eggs sold in California to come from hens that inhabit cages large enough for the birds to spread their wings.
That could be a problem for egg producers in Iowa – the nation’s top egg producing state -- and others that don't want to use larger cages, but do want to sell their products in the lucrative California market.
Opponents of the House provision say it could lead to challenges of dozens of other state laws – including those relating to food safety and consumer protection.
Iowa’s egg industry represents a major market for the state’s grain producers. And it may be more important than ever after the Obama Administration announced plans last week to reduce the amount of corn-based ethanol in America’s gasoline supply.
The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, proposed reducing the amount of renewable fuels blended into America’s gasoline and diesel supplies next year by nearly 3 billion gallons.
According to EPA, refiners would be required to blend 15.21 billion gallons of renewable fuel with gasoline and diesel in 2014. That’s down 8 percent from the 16.55 billion gallons that companies were mandated to use this year. And it’s more than 16 percent below the 18.15 billion gallons required next year by the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS.
Supporters of the RFS say the mandate reduces America’s dependency on foreign oil and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Opponents, however argue the RFS is little more than an expensive subsidy for farmers, and they say it’s directly responsible for higher food prices.
Bob Dineen, President, Renewable Fuels Association: “When we are processing corn into ethanol, we’re not taking the corn that you eat. We’re using, as your viewers certainly know, field corn that’s used for feed crops. And we’re just using the starch out of that corn. We’re leaving behind a high value, high protein feed product that is then going to poultry and livestock markets across the country and around the globe. There is no food vs. fuel dilemma. Ethanol producers in this country are producing both."
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, one-third of every bushel of grain processed into ethanol is enhanced and returned to the animal feed market in the form of distillers grains, corn gluten feed or corn gluten meal. Last year, ethanol production used 4.5 billion bushels of corn to produce 34.4 million metric tons of high quality livestock feed and 13.3 billion gallons of ethanol.
But the Heartland Institute – a nonprofit, free-market think tank – praised the EPA decision. In a news release Institute officials called on Congress to eliminate ethanol subsidies and mandates and said: “EPA will do right by consumers and the environment if the agency announces additional reductions in the future...” (James M. Taylor, Senior Fellow for Environmental Policy, The Heartland Institute)
Another official added: “The oil industry’s heavy lobbying may be blamed for EPA’s announcement, but ethanol’s failure to lower CO2 emissions or reduce oil use or oil imports since the law was passed has just as much if not more to do with it.” (Taylor Smith, Policy Analyst, The Heartland Institute)
Governor Terry Branstad, R-Iowa: "Iowans depend on agriculture and renewable fuels and we must stand together and send a clear message to Washington D.C.... Don't mess with the RFS!"
In response, ethanol proponents vowed to ramp up their efforts to overturn the Obama Administration’s proposal. The Iowa Renewable Fuel Standard Coalition hosted an event Friday to “Defend the RFS.”
Governor Terry Branstad, R-Iowa: "And let the EPA know, this proposal is bad for Iowa; bad for our farmers; bad for our families; bad for our environment; bad our communities; and it is bad policy and they need to reverse it!"
Iowa could very well be ground zero in the battle over renewable fuels. The Hawkeye State typically leads the nation in corn production and is home to more than 40 biorefineries which produce nearly one-third of America’s ethanol.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds launched a website this week called ProtecttheRFS.com. The site allows visitors to sign a petition urging the EPA to reverse its proposal to roll back the RFS.
The EPA has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed rule December 5th in Arlington, Virginia.