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Bill Would Upgrade Hen Welfare Standards

At the ballot box, Massachusetts has proven again and again that it cares for animals. Most recently, in 2016, voters overwhelmingly passed Question 3, An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals. This measure prohibits the cruel confinement of egg-laying hens in battery cages, mother pigs in gestation crates, and calves in veal crates. With this landslide victory (78% support), voters across the Commonwealth passed—at the time—the strongest farm animal protection law in the world. Over 1,000 volunteers helped with this victory to end this confinement in Massachusetts.

However, since then, leading retailers, producers, and eight other states (Rhode Island, California, Michigan, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Utah, and Nevada) have mandated an even stronger standard in the shift to cage-free egg production. This new, higher standard—which is becoming the norm in egg producing and buying—conflicts with the Question 3 standard that voters approved five years ago.

S. 2481, An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards, filed by State Representative Dan Cahill and State Senator Jason Lewis, reflects the new standard and closely mirrors stronger cage-free legislation passed in other states. This legislation would benefit millions of hens by not only maintaining cage-free conditions, but by mandating certain specific enrichments across cage-free systems. These enrichments allow hens to engage in natural behaviors, such as dust-bathing, perching, scratching, and access to nesting areas, which are vital for the hens’ well-being. Further, while Question 3 solely applied to the sale of “shell” eggs (those in cartons), this bill would require that any “liquid” eggs (pre-cracked eggs used in restaurants and cafeterias) sold must come from cage-free hens, too.

In addition, the legislation would add a new, separate standard for a cage-free system called an aviary, which became widely-used after the passage of Question 3. Importantly, unlike typical floor systems, an aviary allows hens to utilize space on the ground and to also utilize vertical space on different levels, meaning increased space for the animals since they will have access to more ramps, perches, and elevated floors. Access to these vertical spaces allow hens to engage in even more of their natural behaviors.

Because this bill provides even stronger protections for egg-laying hens, its provisions strongly align with the values Commonwealth voters demonstrated when they approved Question 3 by a landslide, and it helps farmers and retailers by enhancing market certainty.

An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards was released favorably from the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, and was passed by the Senate in July. As of this writing, the legislation resides in the House Committee on Ways and Means.

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