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Massachusetts urged to delay enforcement of animal confinement law

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Attorney General is 19 months late in providing rules and regulations for implementation of the Act.

With less than five months before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts intends to enforce its proposed Regulations Implementing the Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals (the Act), the North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) are urging the Commonwealth to delay enforcement and allow time for the proposed rule to be made final so livestock producers and packer processors can understand the final rule and make any required changes to their operations. The Act stems from Question 3, a 2016 state ballot initiative that passed which prohibits the sale of pork produced using certain production methods.

In comments submitted to The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General on the proposed act, Mark Dopp, chief operating officer of the North American Meat Institute said:

“Before addressing the problems attendant with the proposed rules, the ‘elephant in the room’ needs addressing. The Act provides that the ‘The Attorney General shall promulgate rules and regulations for the implementation of this Act on or before January 1, 2020.’ The Attorney General is 19 months late and counting in meeting that deadline. Simple equity demands that the agency delay enforcement of the Act so veal calf producers, hog farmers, packer/processors and the rest of the supply chain have time to understand and comply with yet to be published final regulations.”

Dopp said regulatory compliance will require the veal and pork industry to divert resources from maintaining a critical food supply and reallocate personnel to prepare for the compliance deadline. For example, he said packer/processors will need to examine their operations and supply chains to ensure only compliant pork and veal is sold into Massachusetts – should they decide to continue supplying that market.

“To implement those changes in the absence of final rules is impracticable, if not impossible. For these reasons, NAMI respectfully requests that, at a minimum, the agency delay for two years after publication of final rules enforcement of the Act and regulations.”

In addition, the Meat Institute also addressed the problems with the proposed Act, noting that, while Massachusetts did not conduct an economic impact study, the State of California’s economic analysis for its similar proposed law, called Proposition 12, found that the California law and proposed rules will cause consumers to pay more for pork and veal, with no identified benefit to California citizens.

Also of particular note is the burdensome and costly certification and record keeping requirements of the Massachusetts proposed rule.

“The proposal would require a packer that harvests hogs, processes those hogs and produces bacon and pork tenderloins, and sells those products to customers in Massachusetts to create and keep for three years a ‘certification’ for every single transaction,” explained Dopp, adding that large packer processors could have thousands of transactions a year in Massachusetts. “Plus, they undoubtedly sell covered pork or veal products to third parties who, in turn, sell the covered products in Massachusetts but the packer often will not know when it sells the product whether that product will be sold in Massachusetts. Indeed, the distributor may not know when it purchases from the packer to whom the product will be sold.”

The Meat Institute suggests that instead of mandating individual certifications for every transaction, the agency should implement a simple outcome-based requirement. The seller would supply the purchaser with a guarantee, certification, or other information to demonstrate the animals or products are compliant. 

NPPC also recently submitted comments on the proposed rule, emphasizing that because of the delay in promulgating regulations, the vast majority of farmers do not meet the standards and will not meet them standards by the deadline.

NPPC is strongly urging experts be tapped who understand modern livestock and pork production,” an industry that resides almost entirely outside the borders of the commonwealth.”

Additionally, the organization is urging collaboration with the impacted stakeholders throughout the entire supply chain to develop final regulations. “Clear guidance is critical in ensuring that the regulatory requirements being developed are feasible and will not disrupt the supply of pork to Massachusetts consumers.”

In late June, NPPC filed comments on a Massachusetts state bill (S. 2481) that would make substantive changes to Question 3. Among changes, S. 2481 would shift primary responsibility for promulgating regulatory requirements to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, with the Massachusetts Attorney General having an advisory role.

The organization offered strong support of this provision, adding, “NPPC is hopeful that this collaboration will lead to a regulatory process that establishes substantive dialogue with the impacted stakeholders, not just farmers but throughout the entire supply chain, to develop final regulations.”

At the time, NPPC also reiterated the need for Question 3’s implementation to be delayed by two years, to Jan. 1, 2024.

“Meeting the requirements of Question 3 is difficult enough to do in normal conditions, requiring significant investments of labor and capital as farmers must convert to a compliant system in order to meet Question 3’s requirements,” NPPC wrote. “The time and cost of this challenge has been exacerbated over the last two years as the industry struggles to overcome the challenges – both to our workers and to the marketplaces for pigs and pork – caused by COVID-19.”

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