Bill would give farm animals more space

By Jazmine Ulloa
Globe Correspondent / June 4, 2009
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Beacon Hill lawmakers considered a bill yesterday that would impose comprehensive restrictions on farms, requiring that animals be housed with room to stand up, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs or wings.

If passed, the legislation, sponsored by Representative Pam Richardson, a Framingham Democrat, would bar what activists call some of the most egregious practices on farms: small cages for egg-laying hens, veal crates for calves, and gestation crates for pigs.

Such cases are rare occurrences in Massachusetts, and Richardson has not seen any in her district, she said at a public hearing yesterday before the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. Nevertheless, the bill would prevent such practices in the state, she said.

Nationwide, approximately 95 percent of egg-laying chickens are tightly confined in wired mesh battery cages stacked several tiers high and extending down long, windowless warehouses, Richardson said.

"Most calves raised for veal in the United States are intensively confined and tethered in individual crates and stalls too narrow for them to turn around, let alone walk during their entire 16-week lives before slaughter," she said during the hearing.

Animal cruelty is currently a felony in Massachusetts that can lead to up five years in prison and $25,000 in fines. Richardson's legislation would create a separate misdemeanor offense for anyone who uses the banned types of animal confinement, said Delci Winders, director of the legal campaign for Farm Sanctuary.

The bill follows California's approval last year of a ballot initiative to ban the worst forms of animal confinement on factory farms. The initiative requires the phase-out of crates and cages that do not allow animals to move freely and extend their limbs.

Colorado, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, and Maine have passed similar legislation since then.

But such changes have not come without protest. Changes in animal confinement are costly and can reduce production, some farmers said at yesterday's hearing. The debate was so divisive in California that some frustrated voters threatened to create a separate state.

Kevin R. Haley, general counsel for United Egg Producers, said the bill would create havoc in food production. "The housing system it describes doesn't resemble any current operating system, including cage-free," he said. "Cage-free operations are so crowded, they cannot stretch out their wings."

David Shepard told lawmakers that current farm housing practices are not cruel to animals. The ninth-generation farmer from Warren said he does not understand why such long-accepted practices are being criticized.

"We are the stewards of the land," said Shepard, also president of the Massachusetts Cooperative Milk Producers Federation. "We know to give our +animals the best feed, the best treatment."

Jazmine Ulloa can be reached at