One could argue that Massachusetts is behind the times when it comes to the prevention of cruelty to farm animals. In November, voters will be asked, in Ballot Question 3, to phase out "extreme methods of farm animal confinement” and ban the sale of eggs, veal or pork from an animal that is confined “in a cruel manner.”
Ten states have already passed similar laws, and many major retailers, including Walmart, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, have already promised to sell only cage-free eggs in the coming years.
In short, Question 3 would ensure that farm animals are given enough space to stand up, turn around, and extend their limbs. Similarly worded ballot questions have never lost in other states, and polls show commanding support (about 66 percent) for the Massachusetts ballot initiative.
Opponents of the ballot question have not even been able to establish a financial organization to fight the measure.
“Forming a (ballot question) committee has been a challenge because people feel threatened about going against this,” Diane Sullivan, a vocal Question 3 opponent, told Politico. “Our opposition is well-resourced and I can’t buy meetings.”
By contrast, supporters of the ballot question are numerous and deep-pocketed, including the Humane Society, which has pumped roughly $1 million into the campaign since September 2015, according to Politico. Couple this with the fact that even the egg industry is not aggressively fighting the ballot question.
While Bill Bell of the New England Brown Egg Council is against the ballot measure, he told Politico that his organization’s resources would be better spent not opposing the ballot question but instead working with individual farmers to comply with private industry’s moves toward cage-free egg and meat production.
“To be spending a lot of money on a political campaign when in some ways our customers have already voted is not something that we would prefer to do," he said.
Nevertheless, Sullivan, an anti-poverty lawyer, argues from a social justice perspective in her efforts to support low-income access to food. But supporters argue the cage-free egg measure will increase the cost of a dozen of eggs by only about 15 cents, or a little more than a penny per egg. Opponents say it might be as much as 80 cents a dozen. Considering egg prices fluctuate by at least that much quite frequently it still seems the cost is not prohibitive.
And the financial impact on the state’s farmers is limited. Only one farm in Massachusetts does not produce cage-free eggs: Diemand Farm in Wendell. The majority of Massachusetts’ eggs come from out of state and would be subject to the cage-free law to be sold in-state.
Stephanie Harris, campaign director for Citizens for Farm Animal Protection in Brookline, said hens on many egg factory farms are crammed into cages so small the birds can't even spread their wings. "Packed five or more to a cage, each hen is forced to spend her whole life in a meager amount of space," she wrote in a press release. "Virtually unable to move, the hens can't engage in almost any of their natural behaviors, such as perching, nesting, foraging or even walking more than a few steps."
The Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit, has endorsed the ballot question because studies show that egg operations that confine hens in cages have higher rates of Salmonella, the leading cause of food poisoning-related death in America.
As for other animals affected by this ballot measure, calves raised for veal are often chained by their necks in crates too narrow to turn around or lie down comfortably.
The vast majority of pork sold in Massachusetts comes from industrial factory farms where female pigs used for breeding are confined in crates only about two-feet wide — so small the animals can’t turn around or take more than a step forward or backward.
To give producers and retailers ample time to comply with this measure, it will not take effect until 2022.
We support the humane treatment of farm animals as do many farmers. We recommend voting Yes on Question 3 on Nov. 8.