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Massachusetts delays hog cruelty law amid fear of pork shortage

On Wednesday, two days after state legislators rewrote a voter-approved animal welfare law, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed the bill into law, averting a possible shortage of eggs and pork.

The new law revamps housing standards for egg-laying hens and delays until August 15 a prohibition on the sale of pork products from farms that do not give pigs enough room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their legs, or turn around freely.

“I signed the egg bill. I got cracking,” Baker told statehouse reporters.

Massachusetts voters passed Question 3 in a 3-to-1 landslide in 2016, the same year that Californians overwhelmingly passed Proposition 12.

Both measures require farmers to give hens, veal calves, and sows more elbow room than is commonly allowed, and set an effective date of Jan. 1, 2022.

Both also bar the sale of eggs, veal, and pork from farms, even in other states, that do not meet their animal welfare standards.

The Supreme Court has upheld the Massachusetts and California measures, but a new farm group legal challenge says Prop 12 imposes an unconstitutional burden on farmers and consumers.

On Monday, Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill that delayed the pork provisions by seven and a half months and reduced the amount of room guaranteed for hens to 1 square foot.

State Rep. Carolyn Dykema said the changes were needed to prevent “potentially dramatic impacts to the availability of essential foods,” reported the State House News Service. “Egg producers have told us that egg prices could skyrocket” and that very little pork would be available that met Question 3 standards, she said.

“We appreciate the actions of Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature to put Massachusetts consumers first and avoid further price hikes for pork,” said the North American Meat Institute, a trade group.

The pork industry, which fought the Massachusetts and California laws for years, said farmers need more time to adapt their operations.

“We’re grateful the legislature listened to our concerns and delayed implementation of Question 3 so that at least producers in and outside the state can have more time to consider their options and continue to supply pork to Bay Staters,” said the National Pork Producers Council.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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