Groups pushing ‘upgrade’ in farm animal law

Seek higher standard for cage-free egg production

CAN ANYONE REMEMBER a time when the proponents and opponents of a successful ballot measure later came together to work to upgrade that measure after it became law?

That’s what’s happening now with both humane organizations and egg producers working together to pass legislation that would strengthen Massachusetts’ historic farm animal protection initiative passed overwhelmingly by voters in 2016, known as Question 3. In fact, this legislation not only raises Massachusetts’ farm animal welfare standards to align with other states’ stronger laws, it also creates a more secure egg supply chain.

As background, when Commonwealth voters passed Question 3, An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals, it was the strongest farm animal protection law in the world. However, since then, leading retailers, producers, and multiple other states have mandated even tougher standards in the shift to cage-free egg production. This new, higher standard that is becoming the norm in egg production and purchasing is now different than the lower Question 3 standard that passed five years ago.

This is why leading supporters and opponents of Question 3 have come together to advocate for an upgrade to the law. Local organizations, including MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, and the New England Brown Egg Council, The Country Hen (organic operation which is also our state’s largest egg farm), Hillandale Farms (a leading New England egg farm selling eggs in Massachusetts), as well as national groups, like Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers, support upgrading Question 3 to meet the new, higher standard.

Here’s what the upgrade would do: It would amend Question 3 so that it more closely mirrors cage-free legislation—with stricter standards—passed in other states, such as California, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Colorado, Washington and Utah. Specifically, it calls for cage-free conditions and goes beyond Question 3 by adding enrichments that are vital for the chickens’ well-being such as spots for them to dust bathe, perch, scratch, and lay eggs in a nesting area.

The upgrade also expands the number of animals that the law protects. When Question 3 was passed, it only applied to shell eggs, like those you see in egg cartons. This upgraded version would also mandate cage-free standards for liquid eggs, which are pre-cracked eggs most commonly used at schools, colleges, and restaurant chains—meaning even more chickens would be positively affected.

Aside from the benefits to the chickens, the upgraded legislation would help farmers by providing clear, defined cage-free standards.

The amended version of Question 3 further helps in enforcement by providing authority to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to join the Massachusetts Attorney General in regulating the law.

When voters approved Question 3 by a landslide, they did so because they care about farm animals. This upgrade is in line with Commonwealth voters’ wishes given that it provides more protections for egg-laying hens. It also helps farmers and retailers by enhancing market and regulatory certainty. For these reasons, Massachusetts lawmakers should support the upgrade to Question 3.

Meet the Author

Kara Holmquist

Director of advocacy, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Meet the Author

Bob Beauregard

General manager, The Country Hen
Meet the Author

Allison Blanck

Director of advocacy, Animal Rescue League of Boston
Meet the Author

Bill Bell

General manager, New England Brown Egg Council
In a national political climate where it sometimes feels impossible for stakeholders to come together in thoughtful, constructive dialogue, legislation to upgrade Question 3’s farm animal protection law is a welcome reprieve.

Kara Holmquist is the director of advocacy for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Bob Beauregard is general manager of The Country Hen, Allison Blanck is director of advocacy for the Animal Rescue League of Boston, and Bill Bell is general manager of the New England Brown Egg Council.