But the pressure to adjust the law has met with opposition from a local farming group and a national animal rights organization. In a twist, the head of the California-based Humane Farming Association told the Globe that if the legislature tinkered with the law, his organization would use the state’s referendum process to overturn the legislature’s amendments to the 2016 measure. .
Bradley Miller, who founded the HFA in 1985, said a bill passed by the State Senate on Thursday that would reduce the floor space required for hens from 1.5 square feet per bird to 1 foot square by bird in some facilities was a “cruel betrayal of animals and the voters of Massachusetts.”
“The Legislature tried to ignore what was a clear request from the voters,” Miller said. “We are determined to give voters the final say here. Voters have spoken loud and clear about the 1.5 foot standard, and it must be respected. “
The reduction of the footprint in the The Senate bill would apply to hens housed in vertical aviaries, which are multi-level facilities, as opposed to single-level chicken coops.
“This is actually considered more humane for chickens because, just like other birds, they like to roost and roost,” said Sen. Jason M. Lewis, a Democrat from Winchester who introduced the bill to the Senate. “We’re essentially updating the Massachusetts standard for laying hens so that [it] will now also accommodate vertical aviaries.
The bill would also require cage-free poultry houses to include “enrichments that allow [hens] to exhibit natural behaviors ”, including scratching areas, perches, nesting boxes and dust bathing areas.
Josh Balk, vice president of farm animal welfare for the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill is a “huge investment for animals.”
“Chickens are birds – they want to take off,” he said of the layout reducing floor space requirements for vertical installations. “So when they have vertical space, they need less floor space because they are not on the floor. “
Balk said the type of vertical aviary system targeted by the proposed changes was not widely used in the 2016 referendum. Since such systems have since become standard in production, he said, the law should be updated.
But opponents of the bill, including a leading agricultural group, are crying scandal. They say supporters of change are succumbing to pressure from out-of-state egg farmers and overthrowing the will of voters.
Brad Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, took issue with the idea that 1 square foot is actually a standard for hens in vertical aviaries. Instead, he said, “that’s what a few special interests have temporarily agreed to in this place in time.”
Passage of the bill would mark the first time a state has stepped back in humane protection of animals, Mitchell said.
The State Farm Bureau opposed Question 3 in 2016. But today, he said, all egg producers in the state are complying with the regulations set out in the ballot measure.
“The package is intended to allow out-of-state egg farmers to enter the Massachusetts market without meeting the standards set by voters in 2016,” Mitchell said.
Senator Anne Gobi, a Democrat from Spencer, agreed with this opinion.
“I think it was the wrong decision of the Senate to reverse the will of the people by reversing a vote,” said the senator.
Lewis, the senator who introduced the bill, said he believed it was “likely” that the House of Representatives would pass the bill, which he said was “fully in line with the intention. voters “. The lower house adopted similar changes as part of its annual budget in 2019.
Governor Charlie Baker has not taken a position on the measure.
But if changing the ballot measure becomes law, it won’t be the first time lawmakers have tinkered with voter-voted laws arguing that leaving the status quo would be bad for everyone. For example, lawmakers first delayed and then reworked the 2016 measure legalizing recreational marijuana sales.
Jasper Goodman can be reached at [email protected]