Editorial: Question 3 Deserves Serious Attention

The Republican, October 21, 2016

Overlooked by many voters whose attention is consumed by two other referendums, Question 3 on the Massachusetts ballot has serious ramifications for consumers and farmers.

A yes on 3 would ban the sale in Massachusetts of eggs, pork and veal from tightly confined chickens, pigs or calves by Jan. 1, 2022. All surveys indicate a decisive victory (perhaps by 2-to-1) for a measure endorsed not only by animal rights organizations but others who see such confinement as unnecessarily inhumane.

In general, it has been overshadowed by ballot questions regarding charter schools and legalization of recreational marijuana, except for rural areas where it would have direct affect.

The case against “yes on 3” has not been heard as loudly as the support. It warns of higher prices, notably for eggs, which are a staple product for low-income families in particular.

Farmers in Massachusetts would face another restriction in an already competitive market. Most in-state farmers already meet the proposed standard, so that’s good news.

Egg suppliers from other states would need to invest in new facilities in order to do business in Massachusetts. That cost would likely be passed on to consumers.

One of the few public advocacy statements against Question 3, published by Tufts University faculty members William Masters and Jennifer Hashley, say a similar policy change in California led to increases of 50 cents to a dollar for a dozen eggs.

New conditions for pigs and calves would not have much effect on costs. A national trend toward cage-free conditions for these animals is underway.

The new law would require egg-laying hens have sufficient space to extend their wings and turn around freely, with similar rules for pigs and calves. From a humane standpoint, the argument in favor of Question 3 is indisputable, which explains its huge lead in the polls.

Concern of a rise in egg prices does seem possible, though. That could well be a fair tradeoff for treating animals decently, but even as “yes on 3” looks headed for a decisive victory, voters should be aware of why some farmers would like more awareness of what that will mean.