Published in the October 11, 2016 edition.
This is the second in a series looking at the ballot questions to be decided by voters next month.
By MARK SARDELLA
In addition to voting on candidates for president and other offices, Massachusetts voters will face four ballot questions when they go to the polls on Nov. 8. One of those questions proposed by initiative petition is Question 3, which relates to conditions for farm animals.
This proposed law would prohibit any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs or turning around freely. The proposed law would also prohibit any business owner or operator in Massachusetts from selling whole eggs intended for human consumption or any uncooked cut of veal or pork if the business owner or operator knows or should know that the hen, breeding pig or veal calf that produced these products was confined in a manner prohibited by the proposed law. The proposed law would exempt sales of food products that combine veal or pork with other products, including soups, sandwiches, pizzas, hotdogs or similar processed or prepared food items.
There are exceptions to the proposed law’s confinement prohibitions. They would not apply during transportation; state and county fair exhibitions; 4-H programs; slaughter in compliance with applicable laws and regulations; medical research; veterinary exams, testing, treatment and operation if performed under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian; five days prior to a pregnant pig’s expected date of giving birth; any day that pig is nursing piglets, and for temporary periods for animal husbandry purposes not to exceed six hours in any 24 hour period.
The proposed law would create a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation and would give the Attorney General the exclusive authority to enforce the law and to issue regulations to implement it. As a defense to enforcement proceedings, the proposed law would allow a business owner or operator to rely in good faith upon a written certification or guarantee of compliance by a supplier.
The proposed law would be in addition to any other animal welfare laws and would not prohibit stricter local laws.
The proposed law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.
Proponents of the proposed law say that it would prevent cruel treatment of animals in Massachusetts by ending the practice of cramming farm animals into cages so small that they can’t turn around or stretch their limbs.
The proposed law’s backers include the MSPCA, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, the Humane Society of the United States and 400 Massachusetts veterinarians.
The proposed measure is also endorsed by the Center for Food safety and the Consumer Federation of America who maintain that cage confinement increases food safety risks and the law would protect Massachusetts consumers.
A ‘Yes’ vote on Question 3 is also urged by Massachusetts family farmers and the United Farm Workers who say that proper treatment of animals is better for farmers.
Proponents also note that retailers are switching to cage-free eggs.
Opponents of Question 3 say that a ‘No’ vote protects Massachusetts consumers’ right to choose among the variety of healthy foods available to them. Opponents maintain that the proposed law would increase the cost to consumers – on eggs alone – by $70 a year for a family of five. They further maintain that increases in food prices disproportionately impacts lower income households and can make it harder and more expensive to maintain a healthy diet.
Opponents point to voluntary measures already underway in the food industry to address conditions of farm animals. They say that the veal industry plans to phase out veal crates by the end of 2017 and numerous food suppliers have already pledged to switch to cage free eggs. The urge letting the free market respond to consumer concerns rather than a government mandate.
Regarding the fiscal consequences of Question 3 if it should pass, the state Office of Administration and Finance has said that because the law would not take effect until 2022, the fiscal consequences on state and municipal government are unknown.
A ‘Yes’ vote would prohibit any confinement of pigs, calves and hens that prevents them from lying down, standing up, fully extending their limbs or turning around freely.
A ‘No’ vote would make no change in current laws relative to the keeping of farm animals.