You may have received an email from the Americans For Family Farmers organization asking you to sign onto a letter asking the Massachusetts legislature to maintain the 2016 Ballot Question 3’s current implementation deadline of Jan. 1, 2022. This organization states extending the deadline to 2024 does not benefit Massachusetts farmers. While the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) does not have policy on whether to maintain the implementation deadline or not, the organization feels farmers should be aware of the letters and can make their own informed decisions on whether to sign off on the letter or not.

As a reminder, the ballot question prohibited the sale of eggs, veal or pork of a farm animal confined in spaces that prevent the animal from lying down, standing up, extending its limbs, or turning around. Essentially this move banned veal crates, gestation crates for hogs, and made it so poultry producers had to provide 1.5 square feet of space per bird.

In Massachusetts, legislators can amend ballot questions to make them workable without changing the intent of the question. Currently this is happening with ballot question 3 from 2016 as the legislature examines how to implement this policy on imported products through HB864 that is sponsored by Representative Cahill and SB2481 sponsored by Senator Lewis. The Senate version has passed in its chamber.

It is important to note that all Massachusetts livestock producers already compile with all these requirements laid out in Question 3. There is no benefit to Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) members or other local farmers in delaying – or changing space requirements – the implementation of the question.

Interestingly, the MSPCA and HSUS have since agreed with United Egg Producers that 1 square foot of space per bird is acceptable standards – please note that there is no current, national legal standard. These two organizations are trying to establish one. As such, they have lobbied our legislature to reduce that requirement down in the two above mentioned bills. MFBF has opposed this change as we feel it goes against the will of the voters and all of our poultry farms already compile with the 1.5 square feet minimum. Additionally, during the ballot question debate when we raised concerns about this space requirement and imported product, we were informed by HSUS that there would be no shortages in food. However, the legislature has been considering these bills to reduce the square footage. MFBF, while it opposed Question 3, is opposed to reducing the standard from 1.5 square feet to 1. This conflicts directly with the will of the voters and has the potential to undermine trust in agriculture.

Additionally, the question’s implementation was delayed until Jan. 1, 2022, as the Attorney General’s office felt they are not the “best suited government office to lead the regulatory effort” and would prefer the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) have the authority to put furth regulations. As questions about these standards remain up for debate in bills, there is a proposal to push the deadline to Jan. 1, 2024, to allow the regulatory agency time after the legislation is passed or defeated to determine how best to promulgate regulations.

If you have any questions on Question 3 and its implementation, please call the office at 508-481-4766.