Other states sue Mass. on humane farming law

For the Gazette
Published: 12/13/2017 10:45:55 PM

Thirteen states, led by Indiana, are suing Massachusetts over its new law restricting confinement of laying hens, pigs and calves.

The law, which resulted from a 2016 ballot initiative led by the Humane Society of the United States that passed 78-22 percent of the voting public, violates the Interstate Commerce Clause, argued the Indiana state attorneys in the case, which was filed in U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

The “extraterritorial regulation,” which is due to take effect in 2022, “will increase the costs of producing and marketing farm commodities nationwide, including for farmers and consumers” in the plaintiff states, the filing argues.

The states also include Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Last year’s ballot question raised concerns in Franklin County as the home of Wendell’s 80-year-old Diemand Farm, the only farming operation that would be directly affected by the resulting law. The law prohibits any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining egg-laying hens in a way that prevents them from “lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely.”

The measure passed in Franklin County by the smallest margin anywhere, 59-41 percent.

The law would also prohibit any business in Massachusetts from selling eggs knowing that the hen was illegally confined. It would also make illegal confinement of any breeding pig or calf raised for veal, as well as sale of any uncooked veal or pork if the animal used was confined in a manner prohibited by the proposed law.

The Diemand family, which had raised concerns of possibly having to scale back its egg business from 3,000 laying chickens to 500, to meet the new law’s requirements, decided to continue the egg-laying operation to see what the options are in the five years before it has to comply. Scaling back the operation would mean ending sales of Diemand Farm eggs at area markets and sell them only at its Wendell farm store.

The farm raises its laying hens in individual cages with 187 square inches of floor space, which Anne Diemand Bucci says allows the birds to move around freely.

The Boston Globe quoted Ralph Henry, who directs litigation for HSUS, as saying, “Opponents of Massachusetts’ animal welfare law are grasping at straws in a legal Hail Mary to try to force substandard and inhumane products onto Massachusetts consumers. We expect this latest legal action will fail, just as attempts to invalidate similar common-sense food safety laws have failed in California.”

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