Animal Confinement Question Passes

The Recorder, November 9, 2016

All eggs, pork and veal produced and sold in Massachusetts will be required to come from humanely-caged animals by 2022 as Massachusetts voters decided in favor of Question 3 on Tuesday.

The Associated Press declared Yes on 3 had prevailed at about 10:15 p.m.

Effective Jan. 1, 2022, the law makes it illegal for any farm owner or operator to “knowingly cause any covered animal to be confined in a cruel manner,” and for any business in the state to buy eggs, pork or veal “that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the product of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”

“Massachusetts voters made history today by establishing commonsense rules against the extreme confinement of farm animals,” Stephanie Harris, Yes on 3 campaign director, said in a statement. “Implementing Question 3 will prevent animal cruelty and improve food safety for Massachusetts families.”

Supporters said the measure will promote more humane treatment of farm animals by requiring adequate room for pigs, calves and egg-laying hens, but retail and food industry opponents of the question have labeled it a “food tax,” saying its passage would add $249 million in higher food prices in the first year.

The question, which was OK’d statewide by a wide margin, was running ahead by a 3-2 margin at presstime in Franklin County, home to Wendell’s Diemand Farm, the only farming operation that would be directly affected by the new law, which is due to take effect in 2022.

The law, which was backed Washington, D.C-based Humane Society of the United States, would also prohibit any business in Massachusetts from selling eggs knowing that the hen was illegally confined. It would also make illegal confinement of any breeding pig or calf raised for veal, as well as sale of any uncooked veal or pork if the animal used was products was confined in a manner prohibited by the proposed law.

Proponents of the question said it was needed to provide “commonsense protections for animals, the environment, and food safety.” Opponents criticized it for likely raising egg prices for low-income families that need for an inexpensive source of protein.

Anne Diemand Bucci of Diemand Farm, said, “I feel almost like we’ve been caught in the cross-fire. I honestly feel like it’s not about us, it’s not about our practices. The folks who have put on this ballot question have tried to make it about us, but I think it’s about having bigger business, and the amount of money that HSUS has put into this and the tactics they’ve used in the last three to five years, I think they don’t really care about the animals.”

The farm currently raises 3,000 laying hens in individual cages with 187 square inches of floor space, which Bucci says allows the birds to move around freely. The vagueness of the question’s language leaves her believing that the family farm — which also raises turkey and meat chickens and does catering and operates a retail store selling meats and prepared foods — may have to reduce to 500 its egg-laying flock, which had numbered 12,000 until 2012. That would mean ending sales of its eggs at area markets and sell them only at its Wendell farm store.

Passage of Question 3, she said, could mean the farm will have to get rid of the cages and put the birds on the floor of the coop.

State campaign finance records show that Citizens for Farm Animal Protection spent more than $2.7 million on its campaign, eclipsing Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice’s $245,000 spending by more than 10 times.

Gov. Charlie Baker voted in favor of Question 3 – he said it was a “really close call” – and Question 3 supporters tout the backing of Attorney General Maura Healey, U.S. Sen Edward Markey, Congressmen Michael Capuano, Joseph Kennedy III, James McGovern and Seth Moulton, and Congresswoman Katherine Clark.

The self-described “broad and diverse coalition” behind Question 3 also included the MSCPA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, the Humane Society of the United States, Massachusetts Sierra Club, more than 100 Massachusetts family farmers, more than 500 local veterinarians, six state newspapers, and more than 35 state legislators, according to the Vote Yes on 3 campaign.

Most Massachusetts farmers haven’t used the practices that animal welfare advocates likened to torture during the campaign in years, the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation said, because stress causes chickens to stop laying eggs and stops pigs and cows from gaining weight.

The Farm Bureau Federation said the real motivation behind Question 3 was “using Massachusetts farmers as pawns in an effort to raise funds and help support similar efforts in states where this is more relevant.”

Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice includes the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, National Association of Egg Farmers, National Pork Producers Council, New England Brown Egg Council, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, Protect the Harvest and “anti-poverty advocates,” according to the group.