House’s hen welfare bill aims to secure egg supply

BOSTON (SHNS) – With the threat of bacon and egg shortages looming, the House on Wednesday passed a bill to prevent disruption to food supplies next year by updating the ballot law of 2016 which sets standards on how hens, pigs and calves could be raised.

The ballot law aimed to improve the living conditions of food-producing farm animals by setting standards on the space required for animals in confinement. Changing industry practices and conflicting standards adopted by other states, however, threatened to cut the supply of eggs and pork products to Massachusetts as early as January.

“Passage of this bill is urgent and essential to protect our fragile food supply chain as food insecurity is higher than ever,” said Representative Carolyn Dykema, a Democrat from Holliston, who explained the bill Wednesday in the House.

Dykema said revisions to the ballot law would also ensure humane treatment for millions of additional laying hens by extending protections to hens used to produce “other egg products,” such as liquid eggs or shelled.

The bill, a version of which was passed by the Senate in June, authorized House 156-1 without anyone objecting. Representative Susannah Whipps, an independent from Athol, expressed the only no.

While the ballot law states that laying hens must have at least 1.5 square feet of floor space, the bill would allow birds to be kept in vertical aviaries with only 1 square foot of floor space. floor space and ‘unhindered access to vertical space. “

The revision would define cage-free housing as any controlled indoor or outdoor environment where hens are allowed to “roam unrestricted and exhibit natural behaviors”, including in multi-level aviaries, partially closed systems. grating or single level floor systems conforming to the largest dimensions of 1.5 square feet.

Supporters say the change will bring Massachusetts into line with other major egg-producing states that also have standards in place for containment of hens, and adapt to new science not available in 2016 that suggests to giving hens more vertical space to fly up, roost and roost is preferred.

“What you’re going to see if that doesn’t change is that you’ll be in a situation, especially in border towns, where everyone is shopping in New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and they won they don’t just buy their eggs there, they buy their whole cart, ”said David Radlo, former owner of Radlo Foods in Watertown and former chairman of the New England Brown Egg Council.

Radlo, who now writes and advocates for food sustainability, said egg farmers were spending between $ 7.8 billion and $ 9.5 billion to upgrade their cage systems nationwide to comply with various state laws, so it is important that Massachusetts is not an outlier with its standards.

“There will be no eggs in Massachusetts,” he said.

Dykema said ensuring an adequate supply of eggs is also important for families who rely on eggs as an affordable source of protein.

The House and Senate must now negotiate any difference between the two versions before they can move on to Governor Charlie Baker for consideration.

The two versions are similar in their approach to laying hens, but the homemade version of the bill would also delay a year until 2023 on the ban on the sale of pork from cruelly confined animals. For breeding pigs, this means pens that prevent them from lying down, standing, fully extending their limbs, or turning around freely.

Dykema said less than 4% of pork suppliers are currently in compliance, threatening the supply of products such as bacon to restaurants and grocers who are already struggling to recover business lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. The delay, she said, would “smooth out” the transition for pork suppliers.

The House bill also transfers law enforcement from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to the Department of Agricultural Resources, which could refer violations to the Attorney General for punishment with fines of up to $ 1,000.

Animal rights groups and commercial egg farmers who clashed five years ago over the ballot initiative now support the changes in the law.

The Human Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Rescue League of Boston and the Animal Legal Defense Fund released a joint statement after the House vote thanking House lawmakers for pushing the bill forward and saying it “will improve the lives of millions of laying hens.”

“As this important legislation progresses through the legislative process, we look forward to working with the legislator,” the groups said.

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