When an election season includes a vote for President, the issues that are further down the ballot rarely get any attention. That is the case for a ballot initiative, “Question 3”, proposed in Massachusetts that will make it illegal to sell veal, pork or eggs from animals that have been confined to crates or cages of a certain size. The recent passage of that initiative is a blow to not only agriculture in that state, but around the country.
“The legislation not only banned those practices in Massachusetts, but it also bans any products from being sold in the state that came from operations that used those housing methods,” said Hannah Thomson-Weeman, communications director for the Animal Agriculture Alliance. “Massachusetts is not a big ag state and it only has one farm that has cages for their laying hens, which is why activists groups chose to put this type of legislation on the ballot there.”
The Humane Society of the United States was the main driver of this initiative investing over $2 million, over 90% of the funds raised for backing this plan, outspending the opposition by a rate of 10 to one.
With that money, time and effort, anti-agriculture groups were able to overpower the alternative message, which was about food costs.
“Not only are these cage-free practices not really necessarily better for the animals, there are issues of aggression, increased mortality and increased management by the farmer,” Thompson-Weeman said. “Of course, the intention is to make farmers comply and change to these new rules which costs money and that will increase food prices and make for some difficult decisions at the grocery store.”
Anti-poverty advocate Diane Sullivan was one of the representatives opposing these new regulations and she talked, in detail, about how increased food costs on a very common protein source will have a negative impact on families that are trying to get by on a lower wage.
“Cage-free eggs are a choice at the grocery store right now and the vast majority of people don’t make that choice,” Thompson-Weeman said. “They buy conventionally-produced eggs because that’s what fits in their budget and that’s what they can afford.”
This new legislation will impact those who can’t afford to pay whatever it costs for cage-free eggs more than any other group of consumers.
“There’s a reason our farming systems are designed they way they are today,” Thompson-Weeman said. “It’s all about maximizing animal health and efficiency so at the end of the day we can produce a safe, healthy and affordable product for consumers.”
The Animal Agriculture Alliance anticipates continued issues like Massachusetts’ “Question 3” to come up, especially in states that do not have a strong farming community where legislators and voters aren’t as informed about agriculture. The organization is recommending a proactive approach when connecting with consumers, law makers and influencers so when they hear myths and misinformation about ag, they can sort through what is true and what is not.