Question 3 Proponents Fire Back Over Whole Foods Issue

The Recorder, November 3, 2016, by Richie Davis

Proponents of Yes on Question 3 are calling a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service over a Whole Foods co-founder’s profit interests in the campaign “a wheeze from the front group for factory farms who are paid to fight progress for animal welfare.”

Stephanie Harris, spokeswoman for Yes on 3 and director of HSUS Massachusetts, the lead of the Citizens for Farm Animal Protection group that has proposed the ballot question, said “The entire food retail sector is embracing cage-free and crate-free farming practices, so it’s hardly just Whole Foods.”

Harris’s comments came in response to a complaint last week to the IRS from the nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom Co. saying HSUS is furthering the business interests of its board member, Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey.

“Question 3 is written in such a way that will unquestionably benefit Whole Foods and Global Animal Partnership,” the ‘cage-free’ certification program of which Mackey is also co-founder, CCF managing director Will Coggin had written to the IRS Exempt Organizations director. “Whole Foods sells only ‘cage-free’ eggs and pork, and Global Animal Partnership certifies only ‘cage-free’ eggs and pork. Question 3 would ban the production or sale in Massachusetts of eggs and pork that are not produced or raised in ‘cage-free’ facilities.”

Harris, in a message forwarded by Harry-Jacques Pierre of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications Inc., said, “Whole Foods is only one of more than a thousand endorsers of Question 3, which include Chipotle, Bon Appetit, and many other businesses. More than 200 major food companies — from Wal-Mart to McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts — have made commitments to switch to cage-free eggs.”

The center is partially funded by “restaurants, food companies and thousands of individual consumers,” according to its website.

Coggin, responding to a request for further information from funders, said, “We don’t reveal individual donors in part because of how nasty animal rights groups can be. But I can confirm that we do generally receive funding from the food industry (as well as foundations and individuals).”

He argued in his complaint, “In essence, Question 3 eliminates Whole Foods’ competitors from the marketplace for eggs and pork in an entire state. If Question 3 passes, it is unclear whether Whole Foods’ competitors would be able to stock compliant eggs and pork products in Massachusetts by 2022. … The resulting increases in wholesale, and thus retail, prices would give Whole Foods a clear competitive advantage over other supermarkets in Massachusetts.”

According to the New England Egg Council, 98 percent of the eggs sold in Massachusetts come from out-of-state.

The only directly impacted farm in the state if the measure passes is 80-year-old Diemand Farm in Wendell that now keeps 3,000 egg-producing hens in one-bird-per-cage cages in a way that could be interpreted by Question 3 proponents as inhumane, despite the family’s insistence that it’s the more alternative than letting them run free.

Among endorsers of the ballot question are farmers around the state, including Atlas Farm of Deerfield, Bug Hill Farm in Ashfield and Enterprise Farm in Whately.

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