A Revolutionary Ballot Initiative for Animals


Animal advocates have long deemed practices of large-scale, industrialized “factory farms”—farms from which we get 99% of our meat—to be excessively cruel. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of this cruelty is the tiny spaces in which farm animals spend their entire lives: industry cages do not provide room for the animals to move more than a step forwards or backwards, turn around, or stretch their limbs and wings. Egg-laying hens spend their lives in spaces the size of iPads; veal calves are chained so tightly by their necks that they cannot turn around; and female pigs used for breeding are confined to cages only two feet wide. As a result, these animals endure considerable physical and mental anguish, unable to properly grow or engage in almost any natural behaviors.

On September 17, Harvard Law School’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted a talk on a ballot initiative to alleviate animal suffering on a massive scale. Matt Dominguez, Stephanie Harris, and Kelly Murray, representing a broad coalition of groups called Citizens for Farm Animal Protection, addressed the goals of the initiative and discussed the ballot process. The initiative would, if successful, bring about a public vote to decide the fate of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which mandates room for farm animals to stretch, turn, and move inside their cages.

The Act is intended to “[phase] out extreme methods of farm animal confinement.” To that end, the Act forbids in Massachusetts the confinement of an animal in a “cruel manner” and the sale of eggs, veal, and pork produced in such a manner. An animal is “confined in a cruel manner” if it is “confined so as to prevent [it] from lying down, standing up, fully extending [its] limbs, or turning around freely.”

The Act would effectively ban battery cages, veal crates, and gestation crates—the current industry practice for confining egg-laying hens, veal calves, and breeding sows, respectively. Moreover, the initiative’s repercussions may extend beyond Massachusetts. By altogether banning these products from being sold in the state, the Act would thereby prohibit the importation of such cruelly made animal products from out-of-state producers. The risk of losing an entire state’s consumers could result in sweeping changes in confinement practices of farms across the country.

Citizens for Farm Animal Protection is composed of animal welfare organizations, veterinarians, family farmers, and food safety experts, among others. This group represents a wide array of justifications for the initiative, from animal welfare to food safety to supporting local business.

The coalition turned to the ballot initiative process after similar bills failed to gain traction in the legislature. To ensure the measure makes it onto the ballot, 95,000 signatures of Massachusetts registered voters are required by November 16th. If those signatures are gathered, on November 8th, 2016, citizens will vote on the Act itself.

Dominguez, Harris, and Murray, who have devoted their lives to helping farm animals at the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, emphasized the need for support from citizens outside the animal rights movement—the far majority of which, they said, already agree with improving farm animals’ lives. That kind of grassroots support may be the only hope of giving animals a voice in the face of the powerful animal agriculture industry.

More information on the ballot initiative is available on citizensforfarmanimals.com.