Listening to Iowa Rep. Steve King rant about the five-year, $1 trillion farm bill lurching through Congress this fall, you'd think the Hawkeye State had the biggest agriculture industry in the nation.

It doesn't. California does. But he and other tea party Republicans want to not only suck up all the subsidies they can, they also want to keep other states -- like California -- from setting standards for food safety or animal treatment that may be different from federal rules. He has proposed prohibiting state laws that affect ag products coming from one state to another. His chief target is California's humane standards regarding poultry, pigs and cows.

It's an outrage on so many levels, given the federal government's utter failure to get a grip on food regulation -- but it's particularly galling coming from King. His congressional district received a whopping $9.17 billion in farm subsidies from 1995-2012, which ranks third in the nation.

More than $6 billion of that was for corn. By contrast, California grows nearly half of the healthy foods Americans consume -- fruits, vegetables and nuts -- and gets about a third of the subsidies Iowa gets. But hogging federal dollars apparently isn't enough for King. He doesn't like states setting their own farming standards.


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Specifically, he doesn't like California's Proposition 2, which 63 percent of voters approved in 2008 and which goes into effect in 2015. It requires that chickens, calves and sows be able to move around in cages. And thanks to an amendment signed into law by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the law will require eggs imported from other states to meet California's humane standards.

Iowa chicken farmers don't have to sell eggs in California. The law just says if they do, they can't put hens in cages so small they can't spread their wings, perch or walk around. And they can't stack cages on top of one another, so that hens on the bottom tier spend their lives covered in chicken ... droppings. We could go on, but you might be reading this over breakfast.

King says less stringent federal standards, which permit this and more animal cruelty, are just fine, and he has sponsored a sweeping amendment to the farm bill that would prohibit all state laws that affect products coming in from out of state. Animal rights supporters believe it would nullify other states' efforts to crack down on cruel confinement of animals on factory farms.

King, who calls California the "vegan lobby," shared his sentiment in September in a USA Today oped: "Photo-sympathetic" animal rights laws are not based on food safety or even on the scientifically demonstrable well-being of livestock, he said.

To test his theory, we suggest King spend a day sharing the experience of Iowa chickens. In a bottom-row cage.