13 States Gang Up on Massachusetts to Stop Cage-Free Eggs Law

Massachusetts law states that, by 2022, producers of eggs, pork and veal farmed or sold in the state must come from chickens, pigs and calves that have not been confined “in a cruel manner.” And that’s an exciting development for animal welfare.

For chickens, that means no more battery cages. For calves, no impossibly tiny veal booths. And for pigs, no constricting farrowing cages. A heartwarming 77 percent of Massachusetts voters approved the “Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals” during a referendum vote on November, 8, 2016.

Specifically, the Act forbids a state from selling in Massachusetts “[s]hell egg[s],” “[w]hole veal meat,” and “[w]hole pork meat” that is the “product of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

The law defines “confined in a cruel manner” as “confined so as to prevent a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs, or turning around freely.” Fully extending the animal’s limbs means “fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure.”

That sounds reasonable enough to me. After all, it’s the absolute least we can do for these poor animals while await slaughter. These requirements seemed reasonable enough to two-thirds of Massachusetts voters, too.

But what does the animal agriculture industry think about this law? Well, it’s an outrage, of course. It’s just too expensive and one state can’t tell another what to do, they wail. Many factory farm operators claim that the law:

“…will require that farmers start preparing immediately for compliance by decreasing flock and herd size, investing in new infrastructure, and undertaking contentious zoning approval processes.”

The angst level is so high that 13 states teamed up to try to sue Massachusetts over its impending requirement.

Indiana took the initiative, and quickly garnered support from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Together, they filed a motion with the Supreme Court of the United States on December 11, 2017 for leave to file a bill of complaint.

In other words, they asked the Supremes to hear this case.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

They took this approach because the only forum available to adjudicate disputes between states is the Supreme Court. It has what is called “original and exclusive jurisdiction” over suits between two or more states.

Since various federal circuit courts have come down differently on the question of whether one state can “dictate production conditions of commodities in other States by controlling access to markets,” the 13 states insist that this situation requires a Supreme Court decision.

The motion asserts that “Massachusetts’s attempt to project its own policy into other States will inevitably regulate commercial transactions occurring entirely in other States,” adding:

[W]ith respect to eggs, at least, nearly the entire impact of the Animal Law will be visited on out-of-state farms that, though they have no vote in Massachusetts, will have to remodel their farms or reduce their production to comply with the Animal Law. Thus, one state will dictate farming conditions in other states simply by closing its markets to products from non-compliant farms.

Well, that may be true — if those other states want to sell eggs, pork and veal in Massachusetts. But no one’s forcing them to do so. Ultimately, shouldn’t Massachusetts get to decide the quality of goods it’s willing to allow to be sold within its borders?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

“Massachusetts has an interest in protecting its consumers from inhumane and substandard production of eggs,” Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy for the Humane Society of the United States, told the Associated Press. If the state and its voters view quality as including how animals were treated during production, so be it.

The HSUS, which backed the original referendum ballot initiative, believes Massachusetts is on the winning side of this debate.

“Opponents of Massachusetts’ animal welfare law are grasping at straws in a legal ‘Hail Mary’ to try to force substandard and inhumane products onto Massachusetts consumers,” Ralph Henry, HSUS litigation director, told The Boston Globe. “We expect this latest legal action will fail, just as attempts to invalidate similar common-sense food safety laws have failed in California.”

In 2016, Massachusetts chose to be on the right side of history when its people voted to approve the “Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals.”

Meanwhile, the motion filed by 13 states outlines fears that these anti-cruelty measures might become the “new normal.” I hope so. I truly hope so.

Hats off to you, Massachusetts. Fight the good fight.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

73 comments

Vasu M
Vasu Murti4 months ago

Vegan author John Robbins writes in his 1987 Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America:

"The livestock population of the United States today consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population of the country. We feed these animals over 80% of the corn we grow, and over 95% of the oats... Less than half the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for people. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed...

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Vasu Murti
Vasu Murti4 months ago

"The developing nations are copying us. They associate meat-eating with the economic status of the developed nations, and strive to emulate it. The tiny minority who can afford meat in those countries eats it, even while many of their people go to bed hungry at night, and mothers watch their children starve...

"To supply one person with a meat habit food for a year requires three-and-a-quarter acres. To supply one lacto-ovo-vegetarian requires only one-half of an acre. To supply one pure vegetarian (vegan) requires only one-sixth of an acre. In other words, a given acreage can feed twenty times as many people eating a pure vegetarian (vegan) diet-style as it could people eating the standard American diet-style..."

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Vasu Murti
Vasu Murti4 months ago

Vegan author John Robbins writes:

"In a world in which a child dies of starvation every two seconds, an agricultural system designed to feed our meat habit is a blasphemy. Yet it continues, because we continue to support it. Those who profit from this system do not need us to condone what they are doing. The only support they need from us is our money. As long as enough people continue to purchase their products they will have the resources to fight reforms, pump millions of dollars of 'educational' propaganda into our schools, and defend themselves against medical and ethical truths.

"A rapidly growing number of Americans are withdrawing support from this insane system by refusing to consume meat. For them, this new direction in diet-style is a way of joining hands with others and saying we will not support a system which wastes such vast amounts of food while people in this world do not have enough to eat."

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Vasu Murti
Vasu Murti4 months ago

Raising animals for food, even raising animals for animal by-products like milk and eggs, means wasting valuable acreage, because the animals have to be fed plant food! If we eat lower on the food chain, fewer resources are required to feed everyone, which means less agricultural acreage, etc., which means fewer rodents and insects are killed when fields are ploughed for farming, etc.

If you carry this argument to its logical conclusion, a vegan diet is the least violent, because it requires one-third less acreage than a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, and twenty times less acreage than a meat-centered diet.

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Elaine W
Elaine W4 months ago

Noted. Thanks.

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Lesa D
Lesa D4 months ago

thank you, Massachusetts & thank you, Vasu for your comments...

thank you, Susan...

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini4 months ago

Bill A
In answer to your 1) People are not going to starve if they eat less meat. Indeed, I would suggest that eating less meat, but healthier meat, would be in everyone's interests (except for factory farmers, that is). And you don't need acres and acres and acres of land to feed a cow. As for 2) yes, of course in winter your animals have to be under cover, but not tethered in narrow stalls where the only possible movement is to lower their heads to the feeding trough. Big, open barns where the animals can move around are what are needed. You could probably agree to this if you are interested in animal welfare?
Yes, we all need to see the bigger picture and you've explained it, but I still think it's based on a false premise, that people need more and more cheap meat and to hell with the cosequences for human health (all those growth hormones and antibiotics) and the well-being of the animals themselves.

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Bill Arthur
Bill Arthur4 months ago

Annabel Bedini; running loose in the wide open spaces would result in 2 things for sure. 1) a lot of people in this world would starve since there is not enough wide open space to keep enough animals to feed everyone. 2) a lot of animals would freeze to death in our climate . It is 'warm' today with high now up to -11.7C It is also a fact that maximizing the production by the least cost is what gives us food that is priced low enough for people to afford to eat healthy and adequately. Still a case of people asking for things that are not as good as they 'believe' then to be. That is why I suggest they look at the whole picture not just their own preconceived ideas that are not based on reality

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Annabel Bedini
Annabel Bedini4 months ago

Bill Arthur.
Thanks for your post. It is always good to hear the other side of any argument so as to be better informed. I would point out however that the risks you enumerate are all consequences of keeping animals in confined spaces. For example you say that 'running together in open pens would result in more infections and scours resulting in more deaths.' 'Pen' is the operative word here. When, as in many parts of Europe, animals live freely in fields, eating grass, with their calves alongside them, moving on naturallly from mother's milk to grass-eating, your problems simply do not exist. Likewise with pigs – all you need do is give them enough unconfined space. The more space, the less likelihood of a piglet being crushed. And sorry, I'm afraid however you word it, your concern does not look like care for the well-being of the animals themselves but how to maximise their utility as money earners.

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Vasu Murti
Vasu Murti4 months ago

According to the Reverend James Caroll, an Episcopal priest in Van Nuys, California, "A committed Christian, who knows what his religion is about, will never kill an animal needlessly. Above all, he will do his utmost to put a stop to any kind of cruelty to any animal. A Christian who participates in or gives consent to cruelty to animals had better reexamine his religion or else drop the name Christian."

To become a vegetarian or a vegan is to carry the campaign against cruelty to animals to its logical conclusion.

I understand there are conservative Christians who fear veganism... which is kind of like being afraid of nonsmoking, nondrinking, or recycling. Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain fed to livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.

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