Let’s take a step away from the dumpster fire happening on the national presidential stage and turn our attention toward our local ballot measures. When it comes to day-to-day life here in Massachusetts, down-ballot elections and local ballot questions can make quite a difference. As advocates for local, responsible agriculture, we’ve spent a lot of time learning and talking about Question 3.
Question 3 can be seen from two angles. On the farm side, Question 3 seeks to eliminate the confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying chickens, which prohibits animals from moving and stretching freely. This is not too much to ask of Massachusetts agriculture, there is not a single farm utilizing gestation crates for pigs, and there is just one remaining farm raising laying hens in cages.
On the consumer side, Question 3 will prohibit the sale of these cage-raised products in our local stores. This is a tricky line to walk, as removing the cheapest, most-industrial options from stores will likely lead to a bump in prices. Yet, Massachusetts is not a pioneer in this legislation, arguably we are a laggard, following in the footsteps of California, Michigan, Costco, McDonalds, and the general climate of the egg industry. We believe cage free eggs will be the market standard in just a few short years. This is good to hear, as we feel that the cost of caged eggs is actually higher than it appears–with the negative externalities associated with this method of production being borne by all of us.
If passed, this legislation would not even come into full effect until 2022, Massachusetts will be transitioning in the same time span as national, affordable voices such as McDonalds, Denny’s, and many other companies. This industry-wide movement means larger changes, from more efficient designs for cage-free housing to affordable prices on better products.
It’s important to re-emphasize that battery cages represent the cheapest, most-industrial option in egg production. There is a vast spectrum between industrial, caged production and pasture-raised eggs. In election debates, these nuances tend to be clustered into “good” and “bad”, “yes” and “no”. We equate “cage-free” with “good” merely because it is the less-bad option—a familiar idea this year in politics. In truth, “cage-free” merely means that the hens live in large industrial barns that house thousands of birds. It’s not great, but it’s a step up. By implementing Question 3, we are advocating a slight rise in the minimum standard. The ability to turn around does not ensure a chicken can express its natural behaviors – dust bathing, scratching, preening, and hunting for bugs – but it is a starting point for an absolute minimum standard of animal welfare that we all should be able to agree on.
It’s rare that Massachusetts residents get the chance to vote on the ethics and quality of their food. We will be voting yes on 3 on November 8th, and we hope you will too.