Massachusetts Ballot Question 3 “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.”
In addition — and of more impact to state residents — the law would ban the selling of eggs or meat from hens, pigs or calves if the seller “knows or should know” that the animal was confined in a manner prohibited by the law.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to dispute this issue on moral or ethical grounds. Animals, even those raised for their eggs or our consumption, should be treated humanely.
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The issue in dispute, then, is the effect of compliance on the price we pay on store shelves. Indeed, the most vigorous argument made by opponents of Question 3 is that it will increase prices.
Opponents point to California, where a similar citizen petition was accepted by residents in 2008 and went into effect last year.
Stopfoodtax.com, a website sponsored by Question 3 opponents, claims data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture holds that egg prices in California are 90 percent higher than in the rest of the country.
However, according to a May 2016 article in Capital Press, a weekly publication focused on the agriculture industry, “Egg prices are now on a par with what they were in November 2008 when voters passed Proposition 2, which mandated minimum cage sizes for egg-laying hens.”
The movement toward humane treatment of animals is gaining steam. In addition to California, similar confinement laws are on the books in Arizona and up for consideration in Oklahoma. And in September McDonald’s announced a 10-year plan to have a cage-free egg supply chain.
In the long run, we believe economies of scale reduce compliance costs across the industry. With the law not set to take effect until Jan. 1, 2020, we believe this is more than enough time to mitigate any short-term price increase.
This leaves us with the original question of whether humane treatment of animals is good public policy. We believe it is, so we recommend approval of Question 3.