Massachusetts moves forward with livestock housing initiative

Supreme Court allows ballot initiative that would also prohibit sale in the state of meat and eggs from confined animals.

Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, gave the okay to place on this November’s ballot an initiative backed by The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that would ban the use in the state of certain farm animal housing and prohibit the sale in the state of meat and eggs from confined animals.

A farmer and a homeless and hunger advocate challenged the ballot initiative, which would outlaw the use of gestation pens for pregnant sows, pens for veal calves and so-called battery cages for laying hens. It also would prohibit products from animals housed in such ways anywhere in the country from being sold in Massachusetts.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) opposes the Massachusetts initiative, which would prevent hog farmers from caring for their animals in a way approved by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV). Both AVMA and AASV recognize individual pens as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy.

By banning interstate sales of meat and eggs from confined animals, the initiative likely would drive up the price of those products, which likely would reduce their consumption, according to NPPC.

Such a ban for reasons other than public health and safety also would seem to be a violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states ….”

In a 1994 case, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a Massachusetts tax on milk products, along with a subsidy program for in-state dairy farmers, violated the Commerce Clause because it hindered interstate commercial activity by discriminating against non-Massachusetts citizens.

Wednesday is the deadline for proponents of the measure to submit ballot petition signatures to the Massachusetts Secretary of State to get the initiative certified for the November ballot.

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