Under pressure from animal welfare groups, fast-food giant McDonald’s, major meat-processor Hormel and others agreed three years ago to end the use of tightly-confining pens at pig farms operated by their suppliers.
Meanwhile, an unlikely pact between egg producers and animal rights groups in California is reducing the size of battery cages for millions of egg-laying chickens across the country. California lawmakers also have taken the step of prohibiting retailers from selling eggs produced in other states and countries that use battery cages, beginning in 2015.
In Massachusetts, public opinion appears to be behind a ban. A recent statewide poll, commissioned by animal rights groups, found that 90 percent of voters support outlawing extreme confinement of farm animals, while only 5 percent oppose it. The telephone poll of 625 voters was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research from Feb. 25 to 27. The poll had a 4 percent margin of error.
Lewis said marketing Massachusetts-bred livestock as cage-free could be a major selling point for the state’s farmers.
“There is a growing consumer demand both for locally and humanely grown agricultural products and I think Massachusetts farms are well positioned to meet that demand,” he said. “Our smaller-scale farms are an important part of the Massachusetts economy.”
Bonanno said the farm bureau is pushing for approval of legislation that would create a livestock standards board comprised of farmers and other stakeholders to regulate the use of confinement cages and other farming techniques in the state.
“We’re the experts,” he said. “The fact is we know what’s best for the animals and the safety of the person handling that animals.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts State House for CNHI newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com