Ballot Question #3 in Massachusetts

Question #3 on the 2016 Massachusetts ballot is the one related to farm animal confinement. In particular, the question 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.[1] These prohibitions would not apply during certain enumerated situations, such as the transportation of animals.[2] The initiative 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.[3] 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.

I am planning to vote YES on this question.

As a matter of ethics, I don’t think this one is a close call. What we have done to animals in the name of raising them for slaughter is positively inhumane. There doesn’t seem to be much reason to not add some minimum safeguards to treat these animals decently.

The primary argument against this ballot measure seems to be financial. That it would raise the price of eggs, pork and veal. Whether the increase would be a little or a lot seems to be hotly under dispute. Depending on whom you ask, the question would either increase the price of eggs by about a penny an egg, or maybe up to 8¢ an egg. According to the Boston Globe, this initiative would primarily impact one family farm in Wendell with 3000 hens. Some opponents of the law, including the owners of the Wendell farm, have also talked about the fact that letting chickens intermingle produces their establishing a “pecking order” and that this is stressful for the chickens. However, my reading of the initiative does not indicate that chickens must be allowed to intermingle. The text prohibits animal from being “confined in a cruel manner” which is defined as preventing a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs, or turning around freely. In other words, this is not a requirement that farmers raise free range chickens.

Apparently even McDonalds and Burger King – those bastions of progressive business practices – have moved to using cage-free eggs.

Now I’m not a farm economist, and I don’t want to be cavalier about the price of food for families that are well off, but a small increase in the price of eggs, pork and veal – and who eats veal anymore in any case? – seems to be a worthwhile price to pay for treating animals that are being raised for slaughter in a minimally “humane” way. After all, do we really want to be behind McDonalds and Burger King?

[1] 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.

[2] The law specifically exempts not only transportation, but also 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 twenty-four hour period.

[3] The proposed law would be in addition to any other animal welfare laws and would not prohibit stricter local laws.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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