Cruel Reality? Diemand Farm Only One in Question Three Crosshairs
The Recorder, October 14, 2016, by Richie Davis
The lone Massachusetts farm that would be affected if Question 3 on the Nov. 8 ballot passes, according to both sides of the “Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals,” referendum is 80-year-old Diemand Farm.
Depending on whom you ask, the 3,000 laying hens now being individually caged at the farm are either clucking happily or giving cries of distress.
The ballot question, if passed, would prohibit any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any egg-laying hen “in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely,” and would prohibit any business in Massachusetts from selling eggs knowing that the hen was confined in that way. The new law would take effect in 2022.
Simply reading the title of the ballot question is something of a no-brainer, says Diemand Farm co-owner Anne Diemand Bucci, who leads a reporter through a henhouse with birds that have constant access to clean food, clean water and room to move around and stretch. “Who wouldn’t want a bill to have inhumane treatment of animals not be in Massachusetts?” she asks, “Who in their right mind wouldn’t want that?”
Her father, who started the farm in 1936 and kept chickens out of cages until 1968, when the problems of hens cannibalizing each other, lying in their own manure or crowding in corners when frightened led him in 1968 to develop a cage system in a well-ventilated coop, according to her brother and co-owner Peter Diemand.
The farm raised 12,000 laying hens and sold its eggs at Stop & Shop, Big Y and other area supermarkets, cutting back to one-quarter of those egg-laying numbers in 2012 to comply with burdensome federal record-keeping requirements. It has been diversifying its operation, focusing on its turkey and meat chickens as well as catering and its prepared foods at its retail store — the only place its eggs will be sold if the ballot measure passes.
The question sponsored by “Citizens for Farm Animal Protection” would also prohibit any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any breeding pig or calf raised for veal in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely, and would prohibit any business owner or operator in the state from selling any uncooked cut of veal or pork knowing that the animal was confined in a prohibited manner.
Yet, opponents say there are no veal gestation crates nor field crates for pigs in the Bay State, and Stephanie J. Harris, Massachusetts director of HSUS, says Massachusetts was selected for the ballot initiative because there are no laws restricting animal confinement and “In Massachusetts today, there are thousands of animals confined in cages.”
Those thousands are the 3,000 hens — one to a cage at Diemand Farm — where Bucci says the Wendell coop has been visited by people who came in anger because of HSUS’s “misinformation” but changed their minds after seeing the conditions.
“When I read ‘standing up, turning around, sitting down, lying down, being able to spread their wings,’ they can do that!” said Bucci. “People have a perception of a chicken spreading its wings like an eagle. They don’t spread their wings, they stretch, one side at a time. And they can do that.”
Harris claimed that at a legislative hearing as her organization sought to bring about confinement legislation, a “a pork corporation testified they were interested in bringing gestation crates into Massachusetts,” and that the initiative is aimed in part at promoting public health by reducing the spread of salmonella.
The Massachusetts Veterinary Association opposes the ballot question, favoring instead establishment of a state livestock care and standards board to establish requirements on animal confinement. “The ballot initiative … advocates only for specific, rigid animal housing space requirements but does not have any mechanism to adapt to changing needs on an ongoing basis,” the association says.
Massachusetts voters in 1988 rejected, by 71 percent, a ballot question that would have had the state Department of Food and Aagriculture issue regulations to ensure that “cruel or inhumane practices are not used in the raising, handling or transportation of farm animals.”
In Franklin County, 83 percent of voters rejected the proposal.
This year’s measure, backed by a $1.7 million coalition led by the Humane Society of the United States, is supported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its Massachusetts affiliate, the Massachusetts Sierra Club and other organizations.
Bucci has called it a David and Goliath battle. An opposition group, Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice, was formed last month by the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, New England Brown Egg Council, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, Retailers Association of Massachusetts, to argue that the proposal is not needed in the state and would hurt low-income families by raising the annual price of eggs, a relatively inexpensive protein source, by an estimated $60 per family.
How all this would affect supermarkets is unclear, although food sellers are opposing the measure.
HSUS has estimated that consumers would pay only about $1 more per month if the new law takes effect.
Mass. Farm Bureau opposes the initiative, writing on its website, “These practices are not used here, except by one small family farm. They have not been used in some time and will not likely be used again. We are concerned that Massachusetts consumers will be misled into assuming that these practices are common here. … This undermines the consumer trust that farmers have worked hard to achieve with the Buy Local movement. The effort is using Massachusetts farmers as pawns in an effort to raise funds and help support similar efforts in states where this is more relevant.”
Brad Mitchell, Farm Bureau’s deputy executive director, said he believes the “largely emotional appeals” to voters will be used by the out-of-state backers of the proposal to restrict different kinds of farm operations “in successive steps” around the country.
Although the 1988 ballot measure was handily rejected by voters, he said, that was before HSUS was a $215 million “force to be reckoned with.”
Bradley Miller, national director of the California-based animal rights group, The Humane Farming Association question, calls the ballot measure “a publicity stunt in search of a lawsuit,” and as an proponent of cage-free laying hens, opposes HSUS’s “cynical exploitation of ballot measures.”
Miller said that despite overwhelming victory in his state, more than 10 million laying hens are still confined in crates, several birds to a crate, because the law is tied up in federal court.
“This flies in the face of the Interstate Commerce Clause,” he said, and a ballot victory in Massachusetts — as is widely expected — “comes at a cost to Massachusetts taxpayers who will have to defend the ballot measure” in expected legal challenges.”
Although The Humane Farming Association, which has promoted veal boycotts and advocated for cage-free chickens, has taken no position on the Massachusetts ballot question, Miller said, “Our position is that nobody should be contributing by giving money, because it’s a farce. It’s to going pass without anybody spending money.”
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