As some cheers and some tears echoed around the nation over the Presidential election, the voters of Massachusetts were largely celebrating a victory, the passing of The Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals. The Act was dubbed “Question 3” by the media and news outlets tracking the Act’s success during the polls. It aimed to ban the sale of foods derived from animals raised in less than ideal conditions: small cages where animals can barely turn around or extend their limbs. Question 3 received seventy-eight percent approval by the Massachusetts voters in November. Thus, the ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, under regulations that will be written by Jan. 1, 2020. The most progressive animal safety act of its kind in the nation, the language of the Act will likely be copied by a number of other states looking to improve their animal safety laws. Only one other state, California, currently bans the sale of eggs from confined hens.
The Humane Society of the United States joined by a number of other grassroots organizations created a coalition named the Citizens for Farm Animal Protection. This group was the main fundraiser and voice of the Act. Although only one farm within Massachusetts currently will be affected by the passage of the Act, Diemand Farm, advocates of the Act suggested that the real effect will be seen in the prohibition of Massachusetts businesses from selling eggs or raw cuts of veal or pork produced from confined animals. Still, the law does contain carve out exceptions for fair exhibitions, medical research and veterinary exams.
Proponents believe that the law will deter companies from using inhumane methods of raising farm-animals in an effort to keep cost low. They also assert that the cost felt by consumers will not increase by more than one cent per egg, a minimal price to pay for the increased value of life of these farm animals. Indeed, there is a fine attached to every single violation of the new Act by a business, suggesting businesses will do what they can to get within the regulations requirements quickly. Advocates in favor of the bill outlined the very grotesque scene that results from the current practices. A chicken “sleeps, eats, defecates, and lays eggs for human consumption all in the same space,” a windowless warehouse.
Opponents of the Act argued that the ban would drive prices of staple foods like eggs higher and higher. The Boston Globe suggested that it could raise prices as much as one dollar per dozen of eggs. Many also pointed out that those who are championing the Act are not the low-income families who are digging up pennies out of their couches to put food on the table. The opposition coalition leader, Diane Sullivan, stated that the ban amounted to a regressive food tax. State Rep. Marjorie Decker, also advocated against the bill claiming that “didn’t read anything that persuaded [her] that [she] could be sure this would not have a financial impact on consumers who are the most economically vulnerable.” Opponents also argued that the practices currently used are not actually inhumane and that this Act, and other bills like it, is an effort by groups like the Humane Society to advocate an end to meat-eating altogether.
At the end of the day, the new regulations on how farm animals can be raised will likely increase the operating costs of farmers in an already highly competitive market. Consumers will feel these costs. Economists are making it clear that in order for the Act to not negatively impact the consumer and the local Massachusetts farmer, something will have to change. The only way prices on eggs and other staple foods can be kept low is if the national suppliers, who are not held to the new standards of Massachusetts outside of that state’s borders, move to the most-efficient cage-free systems as well. That would level the playing field for all local producers. Public funding is also necessary to develop new technologies that meet the cage-free standards. And finally, anti-trust enforcement is necessary so that large suppliers don’t simply take over the fragile market when the price of operating a farm under new, more humane standards ultimately goes up. If Massachusetts new law is any indicator of the laws to come in other states, farmers and national businesses alike should begin gearing up now so that they can bear the cost of the new standards society is imposing on their business model.
Anna-Bryce Flowe is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law, where she is also a member of the Wake Forest Moot Court Board, Wake Forest AAJ Trial Team and Honor Council Treasurer. She holds a degree in Politics from New York University and worked for AT&T’s Premier Client Group, Corporate Sales before starting law school. Upon graduation, she plans to practice as a complex civil litigator, with an emphasis on business and international law.