Our food system is broken and in desperate need of reform. A few years ago, a Massachusetts girl was sickened in a massive salmonella outbreak linked to two Iowa egg factories owned by tycoon Jack DeCoster. In these facilities, multiple birds are crammed into filthy, feces-encrusted cages. Each bird had less space than an iPad. Officials estimate the outbreak sickened more than 50,000 Americans. In a rare example of a food industry CEO being held accountable, DeCoster was sentenced to jail time.
Yet earlier this year, the Humane Society of the United States exposed nightmarish conditions at another DeCoster-owned facility — this time in Maine — that sells eggs to Massachusetts consumers. The society documented hens forced to live among and lay eggs for human consumption on top of the rotting carcasses of their dead cage-mates. Investigators also found poisoned rodents in hens’ cages.
Confining animals in extremely restrictive cages is common in many industrial pork, egg and veal facilities. Question 3 simply says that meat and eggs produced or sold here must come from animals with enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. Voting Yes on 3 would prevent enormous, unnecessary animal suffering.
Scientists have long known that pigs, chickens and calves are intelligent, social animals.
Dr. Temple Grandin, a top adviser to the meat industry, states, “Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.” In Massachusetts, you could go to jail if you locked a dog or cat so tightly it could hardly move. All animals — not just our pets — deserve protection from extreme cruelty.
In addition to harming animals, these confinement systems jeopardize human health. The outbreak in Iowa wasn’t an isolated incident; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates consuming eggs contaminated with salmonella causes 79,000 illnesses annually. Research shows cage-free farms are much less likely to harbor the bacteria than cage facilities. It makes sense; animals who have enough room to move around are likely to be healthier and less likely to spread disease.
The egg industry’s own studies find the difference in production costs between caged and cage-free eggs is only about a penny per egg. (Right now some companies charge a premium for cage-free eggs because they know some customers will pay it; that premium would largely evaporate if cage-free became the standard.)
And an Iowa State University study found that using group housing for breeding pigs rather than confining them in cruel crates could cost 11 percent less. Responsibly produced food can be reasonably priced.
Voting Yes on 3 would help ensure all Massachusetts families have access to safe, affordable food they can feel good about serving to their families.
Stephanie Harris is the Massachusetts director of the Humane Society of the United States and the director of Massachusetts-based “Yes! on Question 3” campaign.