Animal rights activists launched a campaign Wednesday to put before Massachusetts voters a proposal that would prohibit raising certain farm animals in small cages and crates and would effectively ban the sale of eggs, pork and veal from animals kept in such tight spaces, wherever they are raised.
A coalition that includes the Humane Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League of Boston announced the campaign for a 2016 ballot question that would phase out certain confining spaces for breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens and would require farm animals be kept in spaces where they can stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs.
Citizens for Farm Animal Protection rallied on the steps of the Massachusetts Statehouse, describing current practices in raising these animals as "torture" in which they spend their lives in cages barely larger than their bodies.
"These animals are confined in cages and crates so tightly that many of them can't turn around," Matt Bershadker, president of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said. "This isn't just confinement. This isn't just a farming system. This is torture."
The group filed the ballot question with Attorney General Maura Healey, who must determine if it passes constitutional muster before supporters could begin collecting signatures to get it on next year's ballot. The proposal would allow for fines up to $1,000 per violation and, if approved by voters, would take effect in its entirety in January 2022.
Critics said the proposal would affect few farmers in Massachusetts while driving up the cost of eggs, veal and pork.
Rich Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Foundation, said he knows of only one producer in Massachusetts who would be directly affected by the measure. But most eggs sold in Massachusetts come from states where cages would not conform to conditions set in the proposal, he said, and the cost of eggs could soar if those eggs are banned from sale in Massachusetts.
"The Humane Society is just using Massachusetts as a pawn to go to another state where these practices are common and say Massachusetts has banned this, you should too," Bonanno said. "This goes way beyond whether you think chickens are happy or not."
He said the measure is part of a larger effort to promote a vegan lifestyle. Vegans don't consume any products derived from animals.
Ten states have already passed laws aimed at improving conditions for farm animals, supporters of the measure said. A law that went into effect in California this year requires egg producers to give chickens enough room to stand up and spread their wings.
Once Healey certifies a ballot question, sponsors must gather at least 64,750 signatures by Nov. 28. If lawmakers fail to adopt the question by May 3 of next year, the sponsors must gather another 10,792 signatures to secure a spot on the November, 2016 ballot.