The new rules, which passed muster by 78% to 22%, are set to be phased in, before going into full effect in 2022. The incoming law will also outlaw the use of so-called battery cages by Massachusetts farmers and ban the sale of eggs produced by hens confined to these cages.
Opponents in this largely non-agricultural state have derided the measure as unnecessary and argued that the new rules would raise food bills to the detriment of low-income families. They also argue that they restrictions would violate the US Constitution by trying to regulate interstate commerce via a state law.
Animal welfare not trumped
“We weren’t terribly surprised by the results of the referendum,” said Bradley Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, who argued that the state’s meat industry would not, generally, have to change its production practices as a result of the law.
“As is the case in many other aspects of the recent election, we need to look forward instead of backwards,” he added, arguing that the experts administering the rules needed to come from the veterinary community and from local communities themselves.
“We’re fine sitting down with local people. They need to be part of the perspective,” he said. “But we don’t want any national ag groups involved.”
Science-based agenda needed
In addition, Mitchell, whose group did not aggressively campaign against the proposal, said he was concerned about steps that animal rights groups might take next to produce a “2.0 version” of the regulations and move US agricultural practices closer to those mandated by the European Union (EU). “Having an agenda isn’t a bad thing in-and-of-itself but it needs to be based on science not emotion,” he told GlobalMeatNews. And, commenting on the animal rights groups, he predicted: “They’re going to be back.”
For their part, the animal protection groups that successfully pushed the Massachusetts referendum, said they were relishing their victory, in the vote that took place on Tuesday 8 October.
“It’s a historic advancement for animal welfare,” said Paul Shapiro, vice-president of policy at the Humane Society of the United States, the main backer of the measure: “To have an entire state declare that cruelty to farm animals is such a pressing matter that it is establishing a retail standard to ensure animals are able to at least engage in basic movement really sends a powerful signal.”