Photo credit Getty ImagesJeff Swensen

Photo credit: Getty Images/Jeff Swensen

What Massachusetts ballot initiative means to real pig farming

Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved ballot initiative Question 3 on Election Day, banning the use of certain confinement housing for chicken, pigs and veal calves. While food animal production is nowhere close to the top industry of the state, the law will have a national ripple effect because it also regulates how farmers raise food animals in other states.

Exactly what does the law ban?
Straight from the Massachusetts government: 

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 create a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation and would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

So the bottom line is gestation stalls, cages for egg-laying hens and individual veal hutches are prohibited. More importantly, no pork, egg or veal raised in this manner can be sold in the state regardless of where it was raised.

How about exemptions?
No fear, the processed or prepared food items are protected from the law. There is an exception to the law that does allow sales of food products that combine veal or pork with other products, including soups, sandwiches, pizzas, hot dogs, or similar processed or prepared food items. So, just combine away.

Moreover, the proposed law’s confinement prohibitions 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 a pig is nursing piglets; and for temporary periods for animal husbandry purposes not to exceed six hours in any 24-hour period.

So, basically, an entrepreneur 4-H’er could make some serious dough on the local meat and egg scene if driven to do so.

What about California?
The law is similar to Proposition 2 passed in California in 2008, the first time voters were asked to eliminate the practice of confining chickens in battery (small, confining) cages. The measure yielded an increase of 75 cents per dozen eggs since the initiative took effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Why Massachusetts?
A fair question since the state’s livestock production is not exactly the top leader in the United States with only one large egg farm and a small percentage of pork producers. However, dairy products do round out the top agriculture products for the state. In a nutshell, animal right activists target more liberal states for an easy win. 

In late-October, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance reports Citizens for Farm Animal Protection raised $2.3 million to get the ballot initiative passed. It is a cheap investment to launch a national campaign. Once, the movement has chalked up more states in the win column it will focus on states with larger agriculture sectors. Nevertheless, that battle will not be as easy as many of those states do not have ballot initiative options and the battle will then play out in the state legislatures.

Still, the strategy of the game is to gain momentum and support to regulate the way food animals are raised on the farm from a state initiative to national ban to the ultimate end of all meat production. Perhaps, it is time to rally our troops.

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