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State residents raise questions in spar over Ballot Question 3

Daily Collegian File Photo)

(Daily Collegian File Photo)

Editor’s note: This story was a collaboration between Nujhat Purnata and Maria Manning, who is a reporter at WMUA News. A feature on this story will be available on the WMUA website.

Ballot Question 3, concerning the containment of farm animals in Massachusetts, has received overwhelming support from voters, claims Citizens for Farm Animal Protection Campaign Director Stephanie Harris.

However Mark Huyler, an University of Massachusetts Amherst animal science senior lecturer, argues that the question is in fact a “Trojan Horse” with implications for free-range that may not be all “sunshine and green grass.”

“Ballot Question 3 is a very carefully orchestrated campaign by predominantly the Humane Society,” Huyler said. “They are, at their heart, an animal rights organization with the goal of reducing or eliminating animal products. They use a mix of truth and half-truth and variety of, what I’ll call, propaganda videos to promote their campaign. It is pretty easy to take something out of context and rebrand it and, voila, you have a poster for animal rights. It’s been very effective.”

The “Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals” referendum specifically aims to ban farm owners and operators from knowingly confining any egg-laying hen, breeding pig, or calf raised for veal, “in a way that prevents the animals from comfortably lying down, standing up, fully extending limbs, or turning around freely.” It would also prohibit individuals from selling whole eggs or uncooked cuts of veal and pork produced by animals contained in a cruel manner. A Oct. 19 article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette revealed that a similar referendum appeared on Massachusetts’ ballots in 1988, however voters rejected it by 71 percent.

If passed by Massachusetts voters on Nov. 8, the referendum will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2022.  Harris stated that this late date will provide farmers with ample time to conform to the containment rules and that the Attorney General will have the sole power to enforce the law.  She also mentioned that oversight will be complaint based.

If denied, no changes will be made to Massachusetts’ existing farm animal confinement laws.

According to the Citizens for Farm Animal Protection website, the “Yes on 3” campaign is backed by a $1.7 million coalition led by the Humane Society of the United States and supported by many organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and United Farm Workers. Its main objective is to stop factory farms from using cages which they say causes animals to suffer from atrophied muscles, weakened immune systems and lack of mental stimulation. The “No on 3” campaign led by The Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice argues on its website, however, that the proposal is unnecessary in Massachusetts since it isn’t an industrial stronghold and would affect low income families by raising the annual price of eggs. A Sept. 30 article in The Recorder also states that Massachusetts citizens would pay $249 million in higher food prices this first year alone if Question 3 passes.

During an interview, Huyler stated that if voters say “yes” to this question, the community is essentially saying “no” to local farms and promoting industrial scale agriculture, because Massachusetts will not have the economic means or infrastructure to support consumption demands on their own.

For 80-year-old Diemand Farm, located in Wendell, Massachusetts, this ballot question means more than just an adjustment of cage size; it determines whether or not the family farm will remain in the egg business.

Although the farm staff and owners Anne Diemand-Bucci and Peter Diemand declined personal interviews, they sent a detailed email stating, “the cost to keep our current egg production amounts and convert to cage free would be in excess of $250,000. Given that extent of that investment the downsizing of the egg portion of the business seems to be our only option at this time. We will remodel one barn and reduce our flock from 3000 to 500 and stop wholesaling eggs. You will still be able come to the farm to get your eggs.”

So far this year, the farm has sold 45,000 eggs and last year, they sold 61,000. Approximately 70 percent of these sales were wholesale and the rest were sold through retail, stated Diemand-Bucci over the phone.

The Diemand family also concluded that it will be the only farm effected in Massachusetts if the question passes because of requirements for chickens to spread both wings. “Chickens do not spread their wings side to side like eagles.  They spread them to the back one at a time,” stated the Diemands.  “Our hens are caged, but clean, healthy and safe from dangers like predators, stampeding and cannibalism. They live in clean air.”

They revealed that the MSPCA and ASPCA inspected their “one per cage” hen management system and deemed it humane a few years ago.  In an interview, Harris argued that a “yes” vote in Massachusetts is part of a “global trend in the right direction,” and would increase both animal and public safety by lowering the risk of diseases such as Salmonella and E-coli that might fester among caged farm animals.  This idea, she mentioned, comes from the Humane Society’s documentation of hens that were “forced to live and lay eggs for consumption on the rotting carcasses of their deceased cage mates.” She did not state when, where or how this documentation occurred.

Gabrielle Mathews, a sophomore political science major at UMass, agreed that the elimination of cages would promote healthier living environments and said she believes the ballot question is not unreasonable.

“It’s literally saying animals should have space to stand and move around,” Mathews stated. “We should be working towards having better living space for animals because, one, then we have healthier animals who don’t need antibiotics and, two, because that’s just sad. It’s a small step and we should take it.”

The Diemands countered this idea of increased disease with the statement, “many do not realize that big, cage free egg operations crowd hens onto vast indoor laying floors that may get deep in droppings because cleaning is difficult. Ammonia builds up in the air. Disease can be more readily transmitted.”

Several “Yes on 3” campaign ads portray emotional images of hogs, hens and calves in dirty and distressed living situations. However, when asked if the footage was filmed in Massachusetts, Harris said she did not know.

“I think it’s probably important to note that the average Massachusetts citizen is not going to have the opportunity to visit a factory farm, but we don’t need to visit a factory farm just to know how cruel they are,” she said.  “These are terribly standard operating procedures and the industry doesn’t deny that they are using these types of confinement.”

According to the Humane Society’s official website, these animals are “virtually immobilized their entire lives,” and more than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot and push for reform.

However, Huyler argued that this “caged for life” idea is simply not true, because there are targeted phases in which hens and pigs are contained that he claims are beneficial for both animal and human safety.

“Animals do not photograph well in cages or secured under any conditions. But, it is not in a producer’s interest to do things to the animal that are going to affect production,” he stated.

Huyler also claimed that the “Yes on 3” campaign paints the animal agricultural industry with a negative “broad brush” and is the beginning of a slippery slope to provoking future legislations in other animal agriculture industries.

Further prohibitions of egg and meat imports are also a concern for Huyler, who mentioned, “eggs have a fairly long shelf life and can be stored for quite a while so we may also be seeing eggs that have been in storage so they aren’t as fresh potentially.  They may not taste as good and they may not have the appeal.  It is going to be interesting if the voters decide to go that way. There’s that question of ‘now what?’”

Nujhat Purnata can be reached at npurnata@umass.edu and Maria Manning can be reached at mfmanning@umass.edu.

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