Republican Leaders of House Agriculture Committee Insert China’s EATS Act Provision in Farm Bill, Seeking Overturn of U.S. Animal Welfare Laws

China’s EATS (CHEATS) Act bulldozes states’ rights and animal welfare to roll out the red carpet for high-rise factory farms controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Penn., has announced he’s including a provision in the Farm bill to overturn key state laws providing more living space for farm animals, including Prop 12 in California. With committee action planned for May 23, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy will vigorously oppose the Farm bill if it includes any portion of China’s EATS Act, which we’ve dubbed the CHEATS Act.

Thompson is attacking state animal-welfare laws even after the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and its allies — including the Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods — have lost 11 straight federal court cases challenging Prop 12 and related measures. In May 2023, in the key case in the U.S. Supreme Court, Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor ruled that California had exercised proper authority in passing a law to restrict in-state sale of pork, eggs, and veal from extreme confinement operations, no matter where production occurs.

The ink wasn’t dry on the SCOTUS ruling when federal lawmakers from Kansas and Iowa introduced the CHEATS Act. But so far, their effort has sputtered. Not a single Democrat in either chamber of Congress has cosponsored the bill. Only 51 of the 267 Republicans in Congress (18%) are cosponsors of either the House or Senate measure (H.R. 4417 and S. 2019).

In contrast, more than 230 Democrats and Republicans in Congress (43%) are on the record against the CHEATS Act and its derivatives. There have been four major congressional letters opposing the legislation: a bipartisan letter with 171 House signers in August 2023, a bipartisan letter with 30 Senators just days later; a Republican letter with 16 House signers in October 2023; and a Republican letter with 10 House signers in March 2024.

In her letter, Congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla, and nine other conservatives said they were “gravely concerned about infiltration of American pork production by foreign adversaries, principally the CCP [Chinese Communist Party].” 

Support for Gestation Stalls Has Cratered

Among agriculture industry actors, only the National Pork Producers Council, the Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, and the American Farm Bureau have pushed the CHEATS Act with any vigor. To the disappointment of many animal welfare advocates in President Biden’s coalition, these factory farm interests got an assist from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former dairy industry executive, who argued that Prop 12 would create “chaos” in the marketplace.

The truth is, a Center for a Humane Economy study on domestic and global markets showed quite the opposite: the pork industry has ample production capacity to supply the entire California and Massachusetts markets without even a single producer anywhere having to modify his or her sow housing systems. Rather than create “chaos,” as Biden’s agriculture secretary declared without any substantiation, the state laws provide markets for thousands of farmers who’ve embraced more extensive sow housing.

The study revealed that nearly 50% of U.S. breeding sows are already in group or pasture-based rearing systems, and the Center’s market analysis shows that California and Massachusetts together will require just 6% of total U.S. pork production to come from facilities that allow the sows an opportunity to lie down, stand up, and turn around. (The California and Massachusetts laws exempt frozen, processed, and mixed pork products, which account for 42% of pork sales in those states.) The study also noted that the industry has been in transition for more than two decades, after Florida became the first of a dozen states to phase out gestation crates.

With Prop 12 now in effect, the California Department of Food and Agriculture lists 1,350 agricultural producers and distributors complying with Prop 12, with most of them having intentionally made investments some years ago in anticipation of the ballot measure taking effect. The CHEATS Act would put these farmers at risk, rewarding the factory farms for ignoring proper animal care and trying to stack the system in their favor.

Still though, there are just two states, the study detailed, with sales restrictions on pork from extreme confinement systems. Put a different way, 187 of the 189 states and countries that consume U.S. pork have no sales standards requiring humane treatment. Big Pork’s rhetoric about farmers “being told how to raise their hogs by liberal Californians” was a phony talking point right from the start.

Nevertheless, the clock is ticking on gestation-crate production for a different reason: 60 of the biggest names in American food retail — including McDonald’s, Safeway, Costco, Walmart, and Sodexo — have made public statements opposing gestation crates or stipulating that breeding sows should have basic opportunities to move. These companies, especially McDonald’s, are starting to implement gestation-crate-free policies, and that will create new business opportunities for American farmers who use humane housing systems and shrink the market for farmers relying on extreme confinement.

“Our farm and other Texas family-owned farms and ranches have geared up our production to meet the new and exciting market demand for our products in California,” wrote Neil Dudley, a vice president of Pederson’s Farms in central Texas. “We often compete against foreign-owned (including China-owned) agribusiness corporations. California’s standards help farms like ours compete on a more level playing field against these foreign conglomerates.”

High Standards, Not High Rises, for Pigs 

In 2013, the Shuanghui Group, now known as the WH Group, purchased Smithfield Foods for $4.72 billion. At the time, it was the largest-ever Chinese acquisition of an American company, making the WH Group, with 146,000 acres, a major America landowner. 

Today, not a single board member of Smithfield Foods is a U.S. citizen, but the company controls more than a quarter of U.S. pig production. No major sector of American agriculture has anything approaching this level of foreign control. Add in the 14% market share for the Brazil-based JBS and you see that two of the biggest nations in the world control two-fifths of U.S. pig production.

Alongside its decision to gain such control of U.S. production, China was simultaneously intensifying hog farming at home, pioneering the high-rise hog factory farm. In Neixiang province, there are 21 ten-story and higher pig factory farms clustered together. In them, pigs are jammed shoulder to shoulder. Not one of these pigs will ever be warmed by the sun or have her nostrils filled with a cool breeze. 

Long before African Swine Fever hit China’s pig population with force in 2018, the nation’s leaders had been at work on means to secure a stable pork supply overseas. Pandemics, drought, floods, and crop failures have long created uncertainty in pig production, and between the high-rise factories and the outsourcing of factory farms to the U.S., the Chinese had a game plan.

CHEATS Act Is a Test of American Values and Sovereignty

The United States has been moving in a different direction than the high-rise pig factory model created by China. Thousands of American pig farmers are working to keep pigs on the ground, on the soil, and in spaces that, at the very least, give them some room to move.

Let’s remember that in China, there are no animal welfare standards. No free or fair elections. No longstanding nonprofit advocacy focused on animal welfare.

And if there is any doubt that the CHEATS Act is anti-family farmer, as well as extreme in its ruthless designs for animals, let’s keep one simple question in mind: Could a family farmer ever afford to build a 20-story high-rise factory farm costing a billion dollars?

If there was ever a moment of clarity about the direction of American agriculture, this is it.

Do we want China’s EATS Act delivering economic opportunity to our primary foreign adversary? Or do we want the homegrown Prop 12 and Question 3, which enshrine American values of humane treatment for the sentient creatures who remain at the center of animal agriculture?

Photo credit: Andrew Skowron / We Animals Media