Blog: Egg production, pet owner 'fairness' and state freedoms

Two bills affecting veterinarians may have tanked because of their redundancy.
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Mar 12, 2014

At about the same time that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) announced the end of their ill-fated partnership, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced H.R. 4023 in Congress to little fanfare. This bill is the 2014 version of the self-styled Fairness to Pet Owners Act—H.R. 1406 in the last legislative session. So what do we make of this? While neither action on its face had anything to do with the other, in some manner their fates were linked. Let’s explore.

After losing battles in 2011 to impose cage-free standards for egg production in the Oregon and Washington state legislatures, HSUS rose from political ashes and stunned the animal welfare and food animal universe by announcing its alliance with UEP. The two organizations helped introduce federal legislation to impose not cage-free standards but enriched colony standards—standards that closely resembled those HSUS had opposed in the states.

UEP represents the vast majority of large egg producers in the United States, so this marriage of commercial interests with the HSUS political machine seemed formidable, albeit puzzling. Still, it fizzled—this despite the drumbeat from observers repeating that surely this bill would pass if commercial producers and animal rights advocates lobbied arm in arm.

The similar fate encountered by H.R. 1406 and the HSUS-UEP bill may be at least partially explained by the way these bills both attempted to impose one-size-fits-all national standards. Supporters of the bills scoffed at critics who raised the flag of federalism and asserted that states had the freedom to design their own solutions.

But the critics persisted, and one of their sharp observations regarding the Fairness to Pet Owners Act was the idea that, after a century of state regulation of veterinary-client relationships, there was no sound rationale for the federal government to regulate the same thing. Plus, who believed that Congress would stop with this one issue and return authority to the states? Were all features of veterinary-client relationships soon to become the domain of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission?

HSUS and UEP argued that everyone’s interests would be served by imposing a uniform federal standard on how eggs are produced in each state. They derided critics from the federalist camp as self-serving industry advocates, dismissing the rich inventory of state innovations over the years, including Oregon and Washington state egg production legislation in 2011. These critics won the day in no small part because a majority of Congress agreed that there was no compelling reason for Congress to begin regulating the management practices of all farmers in America.

While we await a possible report from the FTC stemming from its October 2012 Workshop on Pet Medications, which may call for uniform national standards as did H.R. 1406, it is highly doubtful that Congress will be any more inclined in 2014 to abandon federalism and state regulation of veterinary-client relationships than it was in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Rep. Matheson, the new bill’s sponsor, is retiring from Congress and the veterinary profession must be vigilant this year to ensure that his farewell gift does not become this law.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.

The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on dvm360.com helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.