Editorial: Vote ‘No’ on Question 3

  • Peter Diemand of the Diemand Farm in Wendell in the hen house where just shy of 3,000 laying hens live in cages. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Published: 11/2/2016 4:13:06 PM

It’s impossible to argue with the spirit of ballot Question 3, which aims to ease the confinement of animals raised to produce food for human consumption. But as a practical matter, the measure would outlaw practices used at only one Massachusetts farm — the family-owned Diemand Farm in Wendell — and increase the price of an important protein source for struggling families.

For those reasons, we urge voters to vote “No” on Question 3.

The Humane Society and other groups pushing the measure didn’t single out the Commonwealth because it brims with factory farms raising hens, pigs and cows in cruelly confined spaces.

Just the opposite. The animal rights groups picked our state because it has no such farms and a voter population that tends to support progressive causes. If Massachusetts voters endorse the measure, as polls suggest they will Tuesday, the advocates are hoping this will be the first pulse of a national reform movement.

To be clear, we support housing farm animals in the most humane possible conditions. So, increasingly, does the marketplace. A stroll through any grocery store shows how consumer demand has increased the quantity, and lowered the prices, of cage-free eggs, along with chicken, beef and pork produced in free-range and hormone-free environments.

The question is: Should voters speed that trend by bringing in the strong arm of government? And at what cost to their less fortunate neighbors?

Question 3 would outlaw the “cruel” treatment of animals used to produce eggs or “whole” cuts of pork or veal. Under the measure, cruelty means “confined so as to prevent (such an) animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs, or turning around freely.”

One fact about the measure that has gone overlooked is that, despite the broadly animal-friendly vibe, it would exempt the bulk of the meat products enjoyed by consumers. Steaks, hamburgers, and foods that, according to the secretary of state, “combine veal or pork with other products, including soups, sandwiches, pizzas, hot dogs, or similar processed or prepared food items” — all would be exempt from regulation.

So what would Question 3 mostly affect? The most common and affordable protein source for people rich and poor.

Eggs.

At this point, it appears that the law would directly affect just one Massachusetts egg producer: Diemand Farm. There, 3,000 hens live in individual cages and produce eggs for consumers around the region.

Farm co-owner Anne Diemand Bucci said the cages were developed as a way to keep hens from cannibalizing each other; the term “pecking order” isn’t just a figure of speech in a hen house. And while the Diemand cages aren’t big enough for hens to stretch out in all directions, she says they have fresh air and plenty of room to do the one-sided stretching the animals need.

In addition to the impact on our Franklin County farming neighbor, Question 3 would take a bite out of family incomes across the state.

The measure would prohibit the sale of eggs from birds closely caged not only here but in other states, meaning a statewide price increase at the grocery checkout. Supporters and opponents of the ballot measure offer different estimates, but the experience of another state that has imposed similar restrictions provides a good idea.

In California, where small-cage production was outlawed last year, researchers found that the average price of a dozen eggs rose about 75 cents. Given that the average person eats about 15 dozen shell eggs a year, that means $11.25 a year more per person — or $45 for a family of four.

Some have dismissed the hike per person as “the price of a movie ticket.” But what about families for whom a movie ticket is an impossible luxury, people who might have to make a hard choice between spending more on eggs or choosing instead diapers or medicine? Yes, the government could compensate for the extra cost by increasing food benefits to low-income residents, but what are the odds?

We encourage consumers who want to strike a blow for less animal confinement to vote with their pocketbooks, creating a growing demand not only for cage-free eggs but also for humanely produced meat and animal products of all kinds. (Of course, people could really eat with their conscience and go vegan.)

But at the polls Tuesday, we encourage readers to remember their less fortunate neighbors and vote “No” on Question 3.




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