The 2016 election is one of the most polarizing in history, with many relatives and neighbors sharply divided. Some of these rifts involve deeply held but conflicting beliefs. Thankfully, there's a measure on this year's ballot that's bringing together people of all political persuasions.
Question 3 is a common-sense measure that tackles animal cruelty while also safeguarding our families from unsafe food. No wonder why polls show it has two-thirds of Massachusetts residents say they're voting "yes" on it this Election Day.
Going against public sentiment for humane treatment of animals, those used for food are too often treated like machines instead of living, feeling beings. Consider a female pig used for breeding in an industrial pork "factory farm." After being artificially inseminated, she's crammed into a crate that's essentially the same size as the dimensions of her body. Forced to live in what is basically a coffin for her entire life, she's unable even to turn around. Like your cat or dog at home, pigs are intelligent and highly social animals. Out of pure frustration, she bites at the metal bars of her cage until her gums bleed. Eventually, realizing she's never going to get out, she gives up. Veterinarians call this learned helplessness. As a result, she stares ahead through the bars of her cage with no hope. Imagine if we treated dogs this way -- the people of the commonwealth would never stand for it.
There's a reason food safety groups endorse the yes vote on Question 3.
A few years ago, a Massachusetts girl was sickened in a massive salmonella outbreak linked to two Iowa egg factories owned by Jack DeCoster. Officials estimate that the outbreak sickened as many as 56,000 other Americans. While DeCoster was eventually sentenced to jail time, earlier this year The Humane Society of the United States exposed nightmarish cruelty and food safety risks at another DeCoster-affiliated facility -- this time in Maine -- that has been selling eggs to New England consumers. The HSUS documented hens forced to live and lay eggs for human consumption on top of the rotting carcasses of their dead cage-mates. Investigators also found poisoned rodents in hens' cages.
Factory farms are incubators for disease due to stressful, overcrowded, unhygienic conditions. Extensive research shows cage facilities have higher rates of salmonella than cage-free farms. Salmonella is the leading cause of food poisoning-related deaths in America. That's why the Center for Food Safety and Consumer Federation of America joined more than 100 Massachusetts farmers and 500 Massachusetts veterinarians in endorsing a YES vote on Question 3.
Preventing this cruelty and improving safety is the right thing to do for Massachusetts, at the right price. The egg industry's own studies find it would cost only one to two pennies per egg to convert from cramming birds into cages to cage-free systems. Cost-conscious food companies like Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Walmart, Dunkin' Donuts, Taco Bell and McDonald's have announced that they're switching to 100 percent cage-free eggs. McDonald's says it's not changing its prices even a single cent. Regarding meat prices, a study from Iowa State University found pork producers can save money by switching to cage-free housing systems. Massachusetts residents support sustainable farmers and want a healthier, more humane food system.
Voting yes on Question 3 would be a major step toward ensuring that all Massachusetts families have access to safe, affordable, responsibly-produced food.
STEPHANIE HARRIS Massachusetts state director, Humane Society of the United States