By Rob Carter
BU News Service
Farmers and animal rights activists are at odds over Massachusetts’ Ballot Question 3, which proposes new cage requirements for animals raised to produce eggs, pork, and veal.
The ballot initiative bans the sale of chickens, pigs, or cattle raised in a cage that “prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.”
Only one farm in Massachusetts is in violation of these parameters, according to Brad Mitchell, the Deputy Executive Director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation. The real effect of this initiative is expected to be from its restriction on imports. Should Massachusetts voters decide to pass Question 3, the same restrictions proposed for Massachusetts farms would be placed on products imported from other states.
Mitchell warns that consumers could face a hike in their grocery bills as a result of these import restrictions, based a similar bill that passed in California raising the average family’s cost of eggs by $60 annually.
Bill Bell of the New England Brown Egg Council also cautioned voters about imposing stricter state regulations than exist nationwide, because “no large scale producers will want to produce will want to produce for Massachusetts.”
“Over 200 companies have already announced they are going cage free”, said Bell, indicating that “proponents for cage free have already won.”
The issue with this legislation according to Bell isn’t giving chickens reasonably sized cages, it’s that it “sets the bar for cage size 50 percent larger than what’s been established throughout the country.” He added that the regulations require cages 50 percent larger than the recommendation of the American Humane Association as well.
Stephanie Harris, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society, however said the proposal was simply “a modest step in the right direction” reiterating the wording of the proposal that merely prohibits confinement of farm animals in cages “that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending its limbs, or turning around.”
Harris went on to explain that Question 3 would simply impose restrictions she called “torture-free”, not entirely cage-free, unlike what opponents of the initiative have indicated.
“Chickens are currently living their entire lives on space smaller than an iPad,” said Harris, and voting yes on question three will just allow them to spread their wings and turn around in a circle.
Farmers would have until 2022 to comply with these new regulations, by which time Harris said cages “would need to be repaired or replaced anyways.”
According to a poll conducted by WBUR earlier this month, Question 3 currently has the support of 66 percent of Massachusetts voters, with only 28 percent opposed.