By Kaitlin Junod
Statehouse Correspondent/Daily Hampshire Gazette
BOSTON — While proponents of Question 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot praise it as a way to prevent animal cruelty and promote responsible farming, some in Massachusetts worry the measure will have unintended economic consequences.
“An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals” would phase out “extreme methods of farm animal confinement, which also threaten the health and safety of Massachusetts consumers,” according to the official petition. The initiative would make it illegal for farmers in Massachusetts to confine any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in spaces where they are unable to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs or turn around freely.
A yes vote on the question would also ban any business owner from selling any whole eggs intended for human consumption, or any uncooked cut of veal or pork, if they know that the animals that produced those products were in confined spaces in a manner prohibited by the proposed law — either in or out of state.
The attorney general would be responsible for administering the new law, which would carry a maximum punishment of $1,000 for each violation. The law would go into effect in 2022.
A poll conducted in September by the University of Massachusetts Amherst and WBZ found that 75 percent of voters supported the measure, while 11 percent were against it.
Opponents of the ballot question worry that the initiative would increase the price of eggs, in particular, an important source of protein, and disproportionately affect low-income residents.
“They talk about trade-off in the different types of housing systems for chickens,” said Diane Sullivan, a spokeswoman for Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice, the formal opposition campaign to Question 3. “Well there is certainly trade-off that humans are going through. Do I pay my rent? Can I put that off so I can feed my children tonight?”
Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice is backed by the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, the National Association of Egg Farmers, National Pork Producers Council, Protect the Harvest, New England Brown Egg Council and Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance.
Sullivan said a similar law in California banning the sale of eggs from confined chickens pushed up the price of eggs by 49 cents per dozen, in 2015.
She cited a Cornell University study examining the likely impact of the law in Massachusetts that found the California law pushed up egg prices at 13.5 times the rate of inflation for all other food products.
The study found that California consumers will spend 16.8 percent more on eggs due to the new law and concluded that an increase in egg prices would disproportionately harm households with lower incomes, forcing families to reduce spending on other healthy food items such as fruits and vegetables.
“These are the real challenges Massachusetts families are faced with,” Sullivan said. “In these food policy debates, lower-income people across Massachusetts have not been part of the discussion.”
Proponents of Question 3 cite humane animal treatment, food safety and the protection of small family farms as some of the benefits of a yes vote.
“This measure will ensure that more factory farms won’t move in and expose the Commonwealth to potentially unsafe food,” said Stephanie Harris, campaign director for Citizens for Farm Animals. “A yes vote on Question 3 will help protect consumers from unsafe, substandard and inhumane products.”
The yes campaign has received support from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Harris also noted that more than 100 Massachusetts farmers have endorsed the question because they know that “responsible farming includes providing good care for animals.”
She said farmers are also concerned about the threat of being hurt by large industrial farms.
“Industrial factory farms around the country have been putting family farms out of business for decades, forcing farmers off their lands and forcing animals into the conditions the measure is looking to remedy,” she said. “Beyond that, better conditions for animals typically means better conditions for workers.”
Farmers who oppose the question worry that it causes consumers to question their trust in local agriculture, noting that only one farm in the state still uses the types of practices this measure seeks to remedy.
“We’ve got a really strong ‘buy local’ movement. There’s a lot of trust in local agriculture,” said Brad Mitchell, director of policy at the Massachusetts Farm Bureau. “The whole ballot question suggests there’s a problem here when we’ve frankly given up these practices decades ago.”