Massachusetts Ballot Question 3: An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals

This November, Mass residents will also be voting on a series of ballot initiatives in addition to the presidential election and other state and local races. As is standard, they were able to be added to the ballot due to a petition drive by their sponsors. This post is third in a series of four posts covering the ballot questions. You can view the rundown of the first ballot question on adding a second slot parlor here, and the rundown on Question 2, about lifting the cap on charter schools, here.

Massachusetts Ballot Question 3: An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals

See full text of the petition here, and the text of the court affirmation here. Below, find the summary of the question as it will appear on the ballot (as the petition itself is rather long).


This proposed law would prohibit any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely. The proposed law would also prohibit any business owner or operator in Massachusetts from selling whole eggs intended for human consumption or any uncooked cut of veal or pork if the business owner or operator knows or should know that the hen, breeding pig, or veal calf that produced these products was confined in a manner prohibited by the proposed law. The proposed law would exempt sales of food products that combine veal or pork with other products, including soups, sandwiches, pizzas, hotdogs, or similar processed or prepared food items.

The proposed law’s confinement prohibitions would not apply during transportation; state and county fair exhibitions; 4-H programs; slaughter in compliance with applicable laws and regulations; medical research; veterinary exams, testing, treatment and operation if performed under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian; five days prior to a pregnant pig’s expected date of giving birth; any day that pig is nursing piglets; and for temporary periods for animal husbandry purposes not to exceed six hours in any twenty-four hour period.

The proposed law would create a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation and would give the Attorney General the exclusive authority to enforce the law, and to issue regulations to implement it. As a defense to enforcement proceedings, the proposed law would allow a business owner or operator to rely in good faith upon a written certification or guarantee of compliance by a supplier.

The proposed law would be in addition to any other animal welfare laws and would not prohibit stricter local laws.

The proposed law would take effect on January 1, 2022. The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.

A YES vote would require any meat or eggs for sale in the state to come from farms where the calves, pigs, and hens used to produce the product were able to stand and turn around, lay down and extend their legs, and turn around freely. There are a few exemptions as noted in the summary.

A NO vote would make no change to current standards.

If you’re familiar with “cage-free” or “free-range” standards, this proposal is essentially advocating making those standards the law for the state. The reasoning is this: if the animals are given enough space, the transfer of food borne illnesses like E. Coli is less likely, the animals before slaughter have more comfortable lives, and everyone feels a little better about things. And it seems like many people agree with this argument, as one poll found that 66% of respondents would support this ballot question as proposed. When researching, I’ve found that there’s a lot of editorials and endorsements in support of a Yes on 3, but little for the No side. In fact, if you search “MA vote no on 3” you are returned websites and videos from years past, not relevant to today’s question 3. According to Politico, this is because there is yet to be an organized group opposing the ballot question. That in mind, please forgive me if I am not representing the “no” side accurately (given that I don’t know what their arguments even are), and feel free to chime in in the comments or send sources my way.


Arguments in support of the proposal:

  1. It’s healthier for us. Allowing for more space for our farm animals results in healthier animals. The risk of spreading communicable diseases is lessened, and the animal’s ability to physically move around is healthier.
  2. It’s ethically better. Restricting animals from moving is inhumane, advocates say. Allowing them to stand and move throughout their lives before their slaughter is something we must do.
  3. Consumers are actually demanding it. In many stores, cage-free or free-range meat is sold at a premium, but is demanded as much as non-ethically-sourced products.

Citizens for Farm Animals is leading the fight for “Yes on 3”. You can find more about their arguments here.

Arguments against the proposal:

  1. It’s going to cost more. If the stores already selling ethically sourced products are selling them at high cost, what will happen when these are our only option?
  2. It may harm small businesses? There is one business that sells eggs from hens that would be affected by this law, and the degree to which this farm would be affected is questionable. Read more here.

There is not at the time of posting an organization dedicated to fighting this ballot question, but if I happen to find any I’ll update the post.

This ballot question is gaining new attention, with a number of news articles coming out just this past week. I’m sure more info will be forthcoming as well, so please let me know if you have more questions that weren’t answered here and I’ll see what I can find.

How did I do? Forget something? Learn something new? Let me know in comments below.


3 thoughts on “Massachusetts Ballot Question 3: An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals

  1. Wow. If passed, it will take 5 years to go into effect? A step in the right direction I guess. Any idea who would oversee the rulinng and actually check on compliance? Just curious. And thanks, didn’t know that was on the ballot.


    1. The full text of the petition names the Attorney General as the “exclusive authority” to enforcement, but I’d imagine the Department of Agricultural Resources would do the compliance checks and then turn over suspicions of mistreatment to the Attorney General. Thanks for asking!


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