Out-of-state egg producers acting like Chicken Little

Claim Mass. law on hen cages will cause shortage, drive up prices

IF ONE WERE to believe the out-of-state egg industry, the sky is falling and the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts may soon run out of eggs.  All because a new law requires that egg-laying hens be provided with more humane, less crowded, living conditions.

In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved with a nearly 78 percent majority a ballot measure to ensure that each egg-laying hen be provided no less than 1.5 square feet of floor space. That’s still a meager amount of space, but it’s an important step in the right direction.

For the second year in a row, out-of-state egg producers are pushing for legislation that would repeal the 1.5 square foot standard and allow hens confined in multi-tier egg factories to be provided with a cruel one square foot of floor space per bird. This would cut hens’ living space by a third and enable egg producers to pack 50 percent more hens into egg factories than the 2016 ballot initiative allows.

These same proponents are trying to justify this drastic reduction in living space for hens by claiming that their bill is a mere tweak to the law.  What they are actually attempting is the outright evisceration of the law’s central and most important provision.

Moreover, egg industry executives have now morphed into Chicken Little, issuing a bevy of alarmist and misleading claims that the implementation of Question 3 will result in a massive shortage of eggs throughout the state and an astronomical increase in egg prices.  None of this is true.

In fact, when originally promoting Question 3 in 2016, the Humane Society of the United States, the initiative’s main proponent, repeatedly noted that the supply of eggs would remain plentiful and that the new standards would only add a few cents to the cost of eggs.   But, now, due to an unholy alliance with the egg industry, the flip-flopping Humane Society has completely changed its tune.

The egg industry’s legislative scheme is not the only challenge to the implementation of the law. The office of Attorney General Maura Healey was legally mandated to promulgate regulations for the implementation of the ballot measure no later than January 2020.  This voter mandated deadline, however, has already come and gone.  Since there were no regulations promulgated, the Humane Farming Association sued Healey, who has now initiated the regulatory drafting process.

The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, which represents 6,000 farm families in the state, has also criticized Healey for supporting the egg industry’s attempts to significantly weaken the law that was overwhelmingly approved by Massachusetts voters. Along with the Humane Farming Association, it remains adamantly opposed to legislation that would undermine and betray the clear will of the voters, writing that “no reasonable person would view this reduction in space to be an improvement.”

There are Massachusetts egg farms that already comply with the 1.5 square foot standard.  These farms have demonstrated that they can remain profitable while adhering to the law. It is mainly the large, out-of-state egg companies that seek to gut this law.

The Massachusetts Constitution gives the electorate the power – through the initiative process – to establish public laws and policies.  It is vital that the Legislature uphold the will of the voters. The egg industry’s back door effort, if successful, will be a devastating setback to the welfare of farm animals, and a major betrayal of Massachusetts voters.

Meet the Author

Bradley Miller

National director, Humane Farming Association
The voters have already spoken loudly and clearly.  It is time to stop the delays, and it is time for legislators to make clear that they respect the will of the people.

Bradley Miller is national director of the Humane Farming Association of San Rafael, California.