13 States Gang Up on Massachusetts to Stop Law Banning Cruel Confinement of Animals Raised for Food

Massachusetts law states that, by 2022, producers of eggs, pork and veal farmed or sold in the state must come from chickens, pigs and calves that have not been confined “in a cruel manner.” And that’s an exciting development for animal welfare.


For chickens, that means no more battery cages. For calves, no impossibly tiny veal booths. And for pigs, no constricting farrowing cages. A heartwarming 77 percent of Massachusetts voters approved the “Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals” during a referendum vote on November, 8, 2016.

Specifically, the Act forbids a state from selling in Massachusetts “[s]hell egg[s],” “[w]hole veal meat,” and “[w]hole pork meat” that is the “product of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”

The law defines “confined in a cruel manner” as “confined so as to prevent a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs, or turning around freely.” Fully extending the animal’s limbs means “fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure.”

That sounds reasonable enough to me. After all, it’s the absolute least we can do for these poor animals while they await slaughter. These requirements seemed reasonable enough to two-thirds of Massachusetts voters, too.

But what does the animal agriculture industry think about this law? Well, it’s an outrage, of course. It’s just too expensive and one state can’t tell another what to do, they wail. Many factory farm operators claim that the law:

“…will require that farmers start preparing immediately for compliance by decreasing flock and herd size, investing in new infrastructure, and undertaking contentious zoning approval processes.”

The angst level is so high that 13 states teamed up to try to sue Massachusetts over its impending requirement.

Indiana took the initiative and quickly garnered support from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Together, they filed a motion with the Supreme Court of the United States on December 11, 2017, for leave to file a bill of complaint.

In other words, they asked the Supremes to hear this case.

They took this approach because the only forum available to adjudicate disputes between states is the Supreme Court. It has what is called “original and exclusive jurisdiction” over suits between two or more states.

Since various federal circuit courts have come down differently on the question of whether one state can “dictate production conditions of commodities in other States by controlling access to markets,” the 13 states insist that this situation requires a Supreme Court decision.

The motion asserts that “Massachusetts’s attempt to project its own policy into other States will inevitably regulate commercial transactions occurring entirely in other States,” adding:

[W]ith respect to eggs, at least, nearly the entire impact of the Animal Law will be visited on out-of-state farms that, though they have no vote in Massachusetts, will have to remodel their farms or reduce their production to comply with the Animal Law. Thus, one state will dictate farming conditions in other states simply by closing its markets to products from non-compliant farms.

Well, that may be true — if those other states want to sell eggs, pork and veal in Massachusetts. But no one’s forcing them to do so. Ultimately, shouldn’t Massachusetts get to decide the quality of goods it’s willing to allow to be sold within its borders?

“Massachusetts has an interest in protecting its consumers from inhumane and substandard production of eggs,” Paul Shapiro, vice president of policy for the Humane Society of the United States, told the Associated Press. If the state and its voters view quality as including how animals were treated during production, so be it.

The HSUS, which backed the original referendum ballot initiative, believes Massachusetts is on the winning side of this debate.

“Opponents of Massachusetts’ animal welfare law are grasping at straws in a legal ‘Hail Mary’ to try to force substandard and inhumane products onto Massachusetts consumers,” Ralph Henry, HSUS litigation director, told The Boston Globe. “We expect this latest legal action will fail, just as attempts to invalidate similar common-sense food safety laws have failed in California.”

In 2016, Massachusetts chose to be on the right side of history when its people voted to approve the “Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals.”

Meanwhile, the motion filed by 13 states outlines fears that these anti-cruelty measures might become the “new normal.” I hope so. I truly hope so.

Hats off to you, Massachusetts. Fight the good fight.

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