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.

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  • Jane says:

    Have you see the videos of barns full of cage free hens who are being cannibalized by each other? Chickens tend to attack others not from their flock, and in a barn full of chickens, none of them are from the same flock, so they peck at each other, especially the cloaca. And any ailing or weaker chicken is fair game for being eaten alive. I think cage free needs to be redefined for the ballot as allowing space for each chicken to be able to get away from attack. otherwise, they may be better off being caged. What do you think?

    • Charley Cummings says:

      Jane, it is a great point, and we agree for the most part – except for your point about them being better off caged. We think getting rid of gestation crates and battery cages is a step forward – albeit a small one and probably not what most people picture, to which you allude. Unfortunately the entire industry cannot change overnight; it is not as if folks who have been raising pigs and chickens in these conditions would be able to suddenly turn them lose on pasture even if they had the desire to do so. But if we can raise the minimum standards over time to include more and more natural behaviors, conditions and foods, we can begin to produce healthier products that all Americans can feel good about from an environmental, ethical and human health standpoint. Hence why we’re doing what we’re doing – trying to set a higher bar!