The National Pork Producers Council recently filed comments on two Massachusetts bills related to Question 3, a 2016 ballot initiative which prohibits the sale of pork produced using certain production methods. In its comments on S. 36 and H. 864, NPPC said it supports language that would place the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources in charge of promulgating Question 3 regulations.
The animal law passed by Massachusetts voters defined the term “confined in a cruel manner.” It is defined to mean, “Confined so as to prevent a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs or turning around freely.” Fully extending was also defined as meaning “fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure.”
In many ways, Question 3 is substantially similar to Proposition 12, a California ballot initiative which passed in 2018. The Massachusetts initiative is set to begin on Jan. 1, 2022, but first requires the commonwealth’s attorney general to draft implementation rules—which have not been completed.
Currently, the attorney general’s office has exclusive jurisdiction. Additionally, while not included in the bills, NPPC is urging for Question 3’s implementation date to be delayed by two years, to Jan. 1, 2024.
“Meeting the requirements of Question 3 is difficult enough to do in normal conditions, requiring significant investments of labor and capital, as farmers must convert to a compliant system in order to meet Question 3’s requirements. The time and cost of this challenge has been exacerbated over the last two years as the industry struggles to overcome the challenges – both to our workers and to the marketplaces for pigs and pork – caused by COVID-19,” NPPC writes.
NPPC explains Question 3 was passed with the express understanding that regulated parties would be taking such steps throughout the period upon the promulgation of a clear and concise regulatory roadmap. “Regulatory compliance will require the pork industry to divert resources from maintaining a critical food supply and reallocate personnel to prepare for the compliance deadline. Businesses will need to rework operations and supply chains to comply with the forthcoming regulatory requirements.
“Farmers will need to expend substantial capital costs to build or retrofit housing, which is a decades-long investment. To undertake those significant costs now, before the issuance of final rules and guidance, would be impractical if not impossible,” NPPC notes.
NPPC adds, “Clear guidance is critical in ensuring that the regulatory requirements being developed are feasible and will not disrupt the supply of pork to Massachusetts consumers and NPPC commends the attorney general for seeking out MDAR authority to put forth regulations. MDAR’s understanding of modern livestock and pork production, an industry that resides almost entirely outside the borders of the Commonwealth is critical.”
NPPC says it is hopeful that this collaboration will lead to a regulatory process that establishes substantive dialogue with the impacted stakeholders, not just farmers but throughout the entire supply chain, to develop final regulations.
In February, NPPC Assistant Vice President and General Counsel Michael Formica testified before a public hearing hosted by the Massachusetts’ attorney general’s office on implementation of Question 3. In comments, Formica urged the attorney general to: 1) involve experts who understand modern livestock and pork production in a collaborative process with impacted stakeholders; and 2) suspend the implementation date to ensure farmers and consumers are afforded the full, two-year window between promulgation of the rules and the effective date.