Massachusetts Raises Animal Welfare and Food Safety Standards

gestation cratesCrates that stop pigs from turning around and cages that cause the restrictive confinement of egg-laying hens are under increasing scrutiny from consumers. Two weeks ago, voters in Massachusetts passed a groundbreaking measure that bans certain types of farm animal containment.

Massachusetts Question 3 will prohibit breeding pigs, egg-laying hens and calves raised for veal from being too tightly confined and takes effect in 2022. The measure was designed to minimize the suffering of animals raised for eggs and meat and to avoid the spread of infectious diseases, such as salmonella.

The initiative amassed considerable support from nonprofits, farmers and veterinary clinics. The Humane Society of the United States, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, the Massachusetts Sierra Club, MSPCA, ASPCA, the Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and United Farm Workers are just some of the groups that came out in support of Question 3. In addition, more than 80 veterinary clinics, 150 farms or farmers and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker support the ban.

A trip to the grocery store reveals how consumers are seeking foods with higher animal welfare, such as cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef. Support from Massachusetts voters for the ballot referendum was strong.

“What I find most interesting is that the ballot referendum passed with 78 percent of the vote,” said Janice Neitzel, CEO of Sustainable Solutions Group, a management consulting firm that guides foodservice companies in making animal welfare sourcing improvements. “This really speaks to consumer demand for animal proteins raised in better living conditions.”

Opposition to the bill raised concerns that such restrictions will increase food prices, while others voiced concerns that more types of farm animals weren’t included, such as beef cattle and broiler chickens. Neitzel believes the public is largely unaware of the animal welfare issues that are relatively common with current farming practices.

“My guess on why this measure passed so overwhelmingly is that consumers think farm animals are already being raised where they can stretch their legs and wings,” Neitzel said. “The social media videos [that portray poor animal welfare conditions] are a surprise when consumers find out that is not the case, especially for pigs and egg-laying hens. People are surprised to find out the densities of stocked animals in huge barns, and [they are] surprised to see the cages and crates.”

Opponents also say excessive confinement of farm animals is very rare in Massachusetts, implying that new restrictions are unnecessary. Neitzel responded: “This ballot measure affects animal proteins being imported for sale into the state, as well as livestock producers in the state. The former is likely to have more impact.”

Image credit: Flickr/Nate Saltmarsh

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

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