Lawmakers Change Chicken Cage Law | Local News
BOSTON – Lawmakers are set to change a 2016 voter-approved law requiring larger pens for laying hens by reducing the size of their barns.
The Senate agreed last week to reduce the voter-approved requirement of at least 1.5 square feet per bird to just 1 square foot for large “aviary systems.” The proposed update is before the House of Representatives, which may take action this week.
Question 3 of the 2016 poll, which banned shelled eggs, veal and other meats produced by caged farm animals, was approved by more than 77% of voters.
But egg farmers say its limits are tighter than what other states require and would lead to egg shortages and higher prices in Massachusetts when the law goes into effect next January.
Most animal welfare groups agree with the update, which includes “improvements” to improve the welfare of laying hens used to supply retail markets.
Stephanie Harris, a lobbyist for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, said the changes would be a significant improvement over the current law.
“It will greatly improve the lives of these laying hens,” said Harris, who worked on the Yes on 3 campaign. “They will be able to adopt vital natural behaviors such as perching, scratching and laying eggs in a nest, which regardless of the type of enclosure. “
The 1.5 square foot dimensions would still be required for egg farms that strictly use cages. But the limit would be reduced for cage-less aviary systems, which allow birds to roam.
A poll conducted by the group, released on Monday, shows broad support for updating the law. At least 68% of the roughly 2,000 likely voters polled supported the law changes, Harris said.
Granted, Massachusetts is not home to many large-scale egg and pork farms. Most of the products sold here come from other states. But the 2016 referendum also applies to products sent to Massachusetts.
Some groups, such as the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, have pushed the state to enforce the law as approved. They say some egg farms have already made expensive changes to comply.
Attorney General Maura Healey’s office recently released draft regulations for the law, which largely keeps the voter approved plan intact. Healey’s office is accepting public testimony on the proposal until August.
But these regulations should be updated before the law goes into effect, to reflect changes in speaker size and other adjustments.
Of course, not everyone is happy that the legislation is finally progressing.
A California animal welfare group that sued the state last year to force implementation of the law said the changes would result in “cruel” conditions.
“By using deceptive fear-mongering tactics and threatening price hikes, the egg industry is essentially engaged in extortion,” said Brad Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association, in a statement. “By succumbing to this egg industry tactic, the Massachusetts Senate is clearly subverting the will of the voters.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at [email protected]