Massachusetts farm animal law at odds with federal bill, could cause problems for producers

A proposal in Congress would prohibit states from taxing or regulating out-of-state businesses.

Some analysts say the bill could affect parts of an approved 2016 Massachusetts ballot question, which bans the sale of pork, veal and eggs produced from animals that were confined in certain ways.

While the 2016 Massachusetts law on farm animal confinement isn’t due to take effect for several more years, some industry analysts say a new federal bill could impact its rollout.

“Generally speaking, our position is that regulation without representation should not be allowed,” said Jim Monroe, a spokesman for the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council, which contributed funding to oppose the Massachusetts ballot initiative last year.

Last fall, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot question that banned the use of small enclosures for calves, pigs and egg-laying hens. Although the law as written affects just one Massachusetts farm, its impact on large out-of-state farms could be significant. Unlike farm animal welfare laws passed in several other states, the Massachusetts law bans the sale of pork, veal and eggs produced in a way that doesn’t comply with the state law, even if they came from farms located in other states.

The law requires that the animals be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and fully extend their limbs.

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced a bill in Congress in June that would bar states from taxing or regulating out-of-state businesses. Under the legislation, which was referred on July 19 to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law, a state could not set conditions on the way businesses in other states manufacture products.

“Over-taxation and regulatory burdens weigh heavy on American businesses,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement. “These practices prohibit economic growth, stunt hiring and make it harder for businesses to expand.”

Under the Sensenbrenner bill, states could still regulate businesses located within their own borders. They could also reject products entering their borders that fail to comply with federal standards.

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office is expected to release new regulations on the voter-approved law by 2020, and the law isn’t scheduled to take effect until 2022.

Brian Houghton, senior vice president of government affairs for the Massachusetts Food Association, a trade group that represents supermarkets and grocers, said there hasn’t yet been much activity to prepare for future compliance.

“I haven’t heard of anything going on now,” he said. “If they have a supplier they know is not going to be in compliance, they’ll need to switch or the supplier will need to change its practices.”

The 2016 ballot question was backed by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Farm animals have intrinsic value, complexity, and dignity, and the billions of animals raised each year in the United States for food are entitled to live their lives able to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely,” the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said in a statement.

For most Massachusetts restaurants, observers say effects will be minimal when the law takes effect in 2022.

“Local operators, by and large, had already made the changeover to using cage-free eggs anyway,” said Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. “It’s been a natural progression from farm-to-table. All the big chains have already made that change as well.”


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