On Tuesday, Massachusetts residents have the opportunity to cast a meaningful vote against animal cruelty. We would be proud to see the state continue its tradition of leadership on progressive and humanitarian causes by adopting the measures in ballot Question 3.
That initiative petition would require egg producers whose products are sold in Massachusetts to provide their laying hens with enough space to fully spread their wings, turn around, lie down and stand up instead of confining them in tiny cages. Similar standards would also be granted to breeding sows, which can be held in small spaces during their pregnancies, and veal calves, which at some farms are confined to tiny crates for the duration of their short lives.
An advocacy group called “Yes on 3” rightly points out that the practice of putting animals in small cages is abusive and can increase the likelihood of disease, including salmonella. Writing in 2014 for CommonWealth Magazine, public health professor Joann Lindenmayer of the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine said that confining hens, sows and calves to small crates reduces the ability of the animal’s immune system to fight off disease, and creates an environment that favors the transmission of disease agents, both to other animals and to people.
Approval of Question 3 would advance the issue of animal rights and could have effects in other states considering passing their own version of the law. The question is backed by The Humane Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and a variety of other groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Consumer Federation of America and the United Farm Workers.
These standards would apply not only to eggs produced in the state, but those sold here as well. Only one in-state farm would be affected — Diemand Farm in Wendell. Farm co-owner Anne Diemand Bucci showed a reporter for our sister paper, The Recorder in Greenfield, the henhouse and said that its cages protect the chickens from one another, stopping them from cannibalizing and pecking at each other. She also said they had enough space to stretch one side at a time.
Opponents argue that passage of Question 3, leading to government regulation of cage sizes, would create an onerous burden for Diemand Farm and others. We hope that the state would consider financial support for Diemand Farm to retool its cages.
However, we believe that it is the right approach for the government to impose standards on health-related issues in an effort to keep people safe and end cruel practices against animals.
One other serious concern about the impact of approving Question 3 is the likelihood that the cost of eggs would increase. While the Boston Globe estimated the annual increase per person at $10, the exact amount is not known. For lower-income families, any increase could be a real challenge, as eggs are a high-protein staple.
However, rather than halt progress on humane treatment of animals, we call on our legislators to seek another solution by expanding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with an egg subsidy to make up the modest difference in cost between eggs produced under current conditions and those produced under the guidelines imposed by Question 3.
We urge voters to take a stand against animal cruelty by voting yes on Question 3.