Egg issue unscrambled as lawmakers hatch compromise deal
Bill would delay implementation of pork law by eight months
HOUSE-SENATE NEGOTIATORS finally got cracking days before many of the state’s eggs would need to be pulled from store shelves, reaching a compromise Sunday evening on a bill that tweaks the state’s new cage-free hen law. The bill delays implementation of part of the law dealing with pork, while adjusting space requirements related to egg-laying hens.
“We are pleased to announce the conferees have agreed on compromise language to ensure a stable and affordable egg and pork supply in the Commonwealth that honors the will of the voters,” lead negotiators Sen. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, and Rep. Carolyn Dykema, a Holliston Democrat, said in a statement.
The 2016 ballot question prohibiting the sale of eggs or meat from animals that are “confined in a cruel manner” was set to go into effect January 1, 2022.
The egg industry warned, however, that most eggs manufactured out of state and sold in Massachusetts would not meet the standard set out by the ballot question, which would require each hen to have 1.5 square feet of space. Since the ballot question was passed, the industry standard has become to use multi-tier aviaries, which give hens one square foot of space per tier.
The House and Senate agreed on the new standard for hens, and the final language in the compromise allows the use of multi-tier aviaries, where hens each have one square foot of space.
But the House and Senate had included different deadlines in each of their versions of the bill for implementing new laws related to the confinement of pigs. The House wanted to extend the pork provisions by a year, while the Senate did not.
Dykema warned during the House debate that only 4 percent of pork producers meet the standards laid out in the bill, which require animals be confined a way that gives them room to stand up, lie down, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely. She said implementing the law immediately could result in shortages of pig products.
The compromise bill pushes implementation of the pork part of the bill until August 15, 2022.
Attorney General Maura Healey had written the animal confinement rules reluctantly, saying she had hoped lawmakers would transfer that responsibility to the Department of Agricultural Resources, which has greater expertise in agricultural issues. The compromise bill allows Healey’s rules to go into effect temporarily but gives the state agricultural agency the authority to write the permanent rules.Dykema and Lewis said their goal is to enact the bill as soon as possible. Because the Legislature is only meeting in informal sessions through the end of the year, the opposition of a single lawmaker could delay its passage.
There is unlikely to be a partisan divide on getting the bill done. All six conferees, including four Democrats and two Republicans, signed off on the compromise. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, had been pushing lawmakers to get the bill done in order to avoid any disruption to the food supply.