Support Massachusetts ballot measure for animal rights and food safety
It is easy to feel powerless in this election cycle, but one way in which Massachusetts voters can have a real voice is through their answers on the four ballot questions. One of the most important ballot questions this November is Question 3, which, if passed, would require that farm animals — egg-laying chickens, veal calves and pregnant pigs — are given enough space to fully extend their limbs, turn around and lie down.
The conversation about Question 3 must begin with the heart of the bill: preventing animal cruelty. The mere fact that we eat animals in no way means we cannot afford them basic decency.
Factory farms in America have adopted the cruel — and somewhat strange — practice of keeping pigs in small crates for the entire length of their pregnancies, according to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These crates do not afford pregnant pigs the space to even turn around. This is devastating to consider, as we should be taking extra care of any pregnant creature. And it is devastating too because a 2015 study in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology shows pigs to be playful, socially and behaviorally complex creatures, comparable to dogs and chimpanzees.
Not only cruel, the practice is also “strange” because a study from Iowa State University found that it would actually cost 11 percent less to not use “gestation crates,” as they are called, according to an April 19, 2007 Iowa State press release. Consequently, the practice is unnecessarily cruel and economically wasteful. Veal calves are kept in similarly cramped, isolated conditions, often chained at the neck before being killed at a ripe young age, according to Mercy for Animals.
Chickens do not receive better treatment. Nearly 270 million egg-laying chickens that are raised in cages every year are given the amount of space equivalent to an iPad, according to an Aug. 27, 2015 piece in Time magazine. For fattened chickens, that means that they will be cramped to the point where they cannot extend their wings, they get caught in the wire of the cages and they experience dire signs of physiological stress. Compare this to taking a subway during rush hour: riding without any fresh air or sunlight, cramped in with so many strangers and bringing on markedly high levels of stress. Imagine never being allowed off the subway. This is comparable to the reality that millions and millions of factory farm animals face all the time.
A buildup of stress leads to lower immune systems for these animals, aiding the spread of diseases that contaminate the animal food products we eat. The Center for Food Safety has said that “the fact remains that in terms of potential Salmonella contamination, eggs from caged hens are simply more dangerous than their cage-free counterparts.” The Centers for Disease Control estimates that Salmonella causes one million foodborne illnesses and 380 deaths in the U.S. every year. That is why the Center for Food Safety has endorsed Question 3; this bill is beneficial not only for animals but also for humans. Question 3 would help ensure better safety standards for foods that we eat all the time.
Admittedly, in Massachusetts, cramped conditions for animals is not a large issue because there are not that many factory farms; only one farm in the entire state raises caged chickens. What makes this bill historic is that all food imports from other states will be held to the same standards. This could be far-reaching, as it adds pressure to corporations and farmers throughout the country to rid themselves of inhumane confinement — or else they cannot sell to our state.
Fortunately, this bill can be both humane and economically viable. One study conducted within the egg industry itself has concluded that, with the adoption of a policy like that in Question 3, each egg would cost just one to two cents more, according to a March 24 Bloomberg brief. In fact, California enacted a similar bill in 2015, and its egg prices are now lower than the national average, according to the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
We also have in-state evidence of what it could do to food prices. Over 200 grocery store chains and countless restaurants in Massachusetts — including McDonald’s ―— have adopted these changes of their own accord, demanding that animals in their supply chain not be cruelly confined. McDonald’s, for example, does not expect to raise its prices at all in adopting these standards, even as it pushes to go entirely cage-free in the next decade, according to a Sept. 22, 2015 Reuters article.
More pertinent to Brandeis, Sodexo has already stopped buying pork and eggs from producers who keep these animals in excessive confinement, and it has announced that it will stop buying cruelly confined veal by 2017 and liquid eggs by the end of 2020, according to a Feb. 19, 2015 Sodexo press release. Sodexo is voluntarily complying with the standards laid out in Question 3 well in advance of the 2022 deadline that this ballot measure would mandate. Clearly, the food industry is prepared to address these changes without a measurable impact in costs or food accessibility.
According to an Oct. 25 Boston.com article, much of the money funding the campaign against Question 3 — led by Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice — comes from big agricultural interests and ultra-conservative activists, like oil tycoon Forrest Lucas, who oppose any governmental intervention to protect animals.
However, there are sincere opponents who are concerned about lower- and lower-middle-class people who cannot afford higher egg prices. This concern is legitimate and should be considered when passing a new bill. But in reality, the anticipated impact is estimated to be modest: a $10 increase per resident or less per year, according to an Oct. 17 Boston Globe editorial. For a family of four, that would be a total of a little over three dollars a month. This may be a hurdle for some Americans, but if we assign any value to the suffering we impose on animals, this seems like a reasonable first step.
Endorsements for “Yes On 3” have been many and diverse, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; the Boston Globe and hundreds of farmers, veterinarians and community businesses. Most notably, though, members of our own Brandeis community have already endorsed the bill — from Rabbi David Pardo of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus to Brandeis’s Rooftop Garden. I am proud to be a part of a community that fights for justice and welfare for all creatures, not just humans.
Humans have used animals for our benefit for as long as we have been a species, and, yes, killing is a part of that. But, in our age, drawing benefit from these animals does not mean that they should suffer a lifetime of cruel confinement and unnecessary suffering.
Question 3 is a historic bill for animals and for food safety. In one week, Massachusetts voters should vote yes on Question 3.