Senate Passes Animal Welfare Improvements for Egg-Laying Hens Proposed by Sen. Lewis

Legislation supported by animal rights and farm advocates would update 2016 ballot referendum to reflect national industry standards

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate passed legislation on Thursday to create a more secure egg supply chain and raise Massachusetts’ farm animal welfare standards to align with other states. The bill would upgrade Massachusetts’ egg production law to create predictability and certainty by mirroring the national United Egg Producers cage-free guidelines, which have been adopted by leading retailers, producers, and other states.

In 2016, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed what at the time was the strongest law for farm animals in U.S. history, An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals, known as Question 3. Since then, leading retailers, producers, and other states mandated even stronger standards in the shift to cage-free conditions for hens. The legislation passed in the Senate, An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards, updates existing state law to meet this new standard. This bill has the support of the animal welfare groups that supported the 2016 ballot question, as well as the support of the leading egg producers in the Commonwealth.

“In 2016, the advocacy of animal welfare groups across the Commonwealth and overwhelming support from voters passed Ballot Question 3 to ensure that the factory farming industry provides more humane standards for pigs, calves and egg-laying hens, representing a historic victory for animal welfare,” said Senator Jason Lewis, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill. “Since then, the standard around the country for egg-laying hens has evolved, and Massachusetts is now an outlier, which could threaten our supply of eggs. Fortunately, the egg producers and animal welfare groups have come together to agree on this legislation, ensuring safe and humane conditions for egg-laying hens and affordable eggs for Massachusetts consumers.”

“We’re grateful to the Senate for passing the upgrade to the Commonwealth’s farm animal protection law today, and to Senator Lewis for his strong leadership on this bill,” said Laura Hagen, Massachusetts State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. “The mandate of critical environmental enrichments for chickens, including areas for them to dust bathe, perch, scratch, and lay eggs in nest boxes will improve the lives of millions of these birds.”

“We commend the Massachusetts Senate for their vote and Senator Lewis for his leadership on this issue. This is a victory for consumers, common sense and good animal husbandry,” said William Bell, General Manager of the New England Brown Egg Council. “We also thank the Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture and especially the Committee Chairs for giving this bill the necessary priority.”

An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards would raise Massachusetts’ standards to align with the laws of other states more closely.

Upgrading the standards of the 2016 farm animal law would help streamline regulatory and enforcement processes to mirror similar laws in other states. Specifically, these amendments would bring the Massachusetts standard in line with other states by:

  • Incorporating industry standards and animal welfare upgrades passed in other states. This upgrade enacts the standard used by leading food companies and other states and provides detailed cage-free standards, including enrichments that provide hens the ability to engage in vital natural behaviors such as perching, scratching, dust bathing, and laying eggs in a nest.
  • Ensuring the sales provision covers various types of eggs. As passed in 2016, the law applied to shell eggs, but not egg products. This legislation would also cover egg products, mirroring legislation passed in other states.

The bill would also enhance market and regulatory certainty by:

  • Updating authority for promulgating rules and regulations to include both the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR). As passed in 2016, the law assigns to the Attorney General exclusive authority to promulgate rules and regulations as well as to enforce the law. This legislation would update the regulatory authority so that it’s shared between the AGO and MDAR. (Enforcement authority would remain exclusively with the AGO.) Many states with similar laws include their state department of agriculture in the regulatory process.

An Act to upgrade hen welfare and establish uniform cage-free standards is endorsed by New England Brown Egg Council, The Country Hen (the major egg producer in the Commonwealth), United Egg Producers, and the Massachusetts Food Association, which notes that the language in this legislation offers a “readily available solution” to ensure retail-endorsed cage-free standards. The bill also has the support of numerous animal protection organizations, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the United States, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Animal Equality, Animal Outlook, The Humane League, Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Program, Mercy for Animals, Compassion in World Farming, and World Animal Protection—all groups that have been working to increase welfare for farm animals, and egg-laying hens, for decades.

The bill now goes to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.