Lawmakers At Odds Over ‘Cage-Free’ Ballot Question

Written by Shraddha Gupta

By: Shraddha Gupta
Statehouse Correspondent/The Sun Chronicle

BOSTON – Two area legislators offer contrasting points of view over ballot Question 3, which would ban hens, calves and pigs from being raised in small cages.

The measure not only would prohibit such confinement of farm animals in Massachusetts, but prohibit the sale of food products from out of state that do not meet the standards of the proposed law.

“I think that this law absolutely should pass and the opponents greatly exaggerate claims about how much you would increase the cost of certain foods,” said Rep. Paul Heroux, D-Attleboro.

But Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, is against the question, saying it would bring cumbersome government regulation that would impact few, if any, farms in Massachusetts.

He says the vast majority of food suppliers in Massachusetts are switching to cage-free eggs and the veal industry will phase out veal crates by next year.

“Voting for this law will create an enormous regulatory apparatus for very few food producers. I believe that the free marketplace can best respond to consumer concerns in the food processing industry,” he said.

Put on the ballot by the Humane Society of the United States and an organization called Citizens for Farm Animal Protection, Question 3 would ban the confinement of farm animals, including breeding pigs, calves raised for veal and egg-laying hens, in cages that prevent free movement.

Ten other states have passed similar legislation, including Maine, Rhode Island, Washington, Arizona, Florida and Colorado.

Yes on 3 Campaign Director Stephanie Harris, who also heads the Massachusetts Humane Society, said farm animals should have enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs.

“Hens often are kept in cages that are so small, essentially the size of an iPad,” Harris said in a recent debate on WCVB’s weekly “On The Record.”

“That is where they eat, sleep, defecate, and lay their eggs for human consumption. Massachusetts families deserve to be protected from contaminated food,”

The opposition is led by Diane Sullivan, campaign manager for Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice, who says the measure will add $250 million to Massachusetts grocery bills.

Based on a similar California initiative on hens, opponents cite a Cornell University study that estimated the cost of eggs would increase by $70 a year for a family of five.

“Question 3 is a social injustice that will victimize low- and middle-income families,” Sullivan said during the debate. “It would impact only one farm in Western Massachusetts, where they do have caged hens. In fact, in Massachusetts the other two animals (pork and veal) we don’t even raise in the fashion which is trying to be banned.”

The Yes on 3 campaign says the shift would add only a penny per egg.

The debate also discussed that while most eggs produced in Massachusetts already conform to Yes on 3’s space requirements, most eggs in Massachusetts grocery stores come from out-of-state producers that do not meet the standards.

That has prompted opponents to charge that Massachusetts is being used as a pawn to drive policy in other states.

“This is a Washington, D.C., lobbyist group here in Massachusetts trying to dictate our food choices and trying to take away 90 percent of eggs purchased at our grocery stores – of conventional eggs,” Sullivan said during the debate.

Beyond eggs, the question also bans the use of whole cuts from veal and pork raised in confinement. Violations of the law would carry a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation. However, the proposed law would exempt food products that combine veal or pork in other products like soup, sandwiches, pizzas, hotdogs or similar food items.

In addition to 100 family farmers, and 400 in-state veterinarians, the ballot question is also endorsed by the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America.

McDonald’s and Walmart have also pledged to switch to cage-free eggs as the right thing to do at the right cost.

If passed, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2022.

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