By Jillian Poland
Question 3 offers an idyllic and ethically pleasing option for Massachusetts residents looking to feel less guilty about their morning omelet. But while nearly everyone understands the humanitarian objectives of the proposed law, few are aware of the impact it will have on farmers and consumers in Massachusetts.
The first part of the law, which bans farms from holding certain animals in confined spaces would have little effect on Massachusetts farming practices. There is currently only one farm in Massachusetts that does not adhere to the proposed standards.
Some farmers are concerned that even the simple proposal of this law is undermining consumer confidence in local Massachusetts farms by implying the problem is more widespread than it truly is.
The second aspect of the law is more problematic. The law would ban the sale of any pork, veal or eggs from animals stored in confined conditions. This includes products produced outside of Massachusetts.
The first concern this raises is about regulation. How is the commonwealth supposed to inspect what is sold at all stores within state boundaries? Additionally, how will the state be able to confirm or deny that the food produced outside the state adheres to the confined space regulations?
The only answer: invest taxpayer dollars in an infrastructure that could carry out these tasks. This includes hiring people with in-depth knowledge of agriculture. It also involves travelling to other parts of the country and getting permission to inspect large factory farms to determine if they meet Massachusetts regulations.
There will be further consequences for the consumer when the prices of eggs, pork and veal begin to reflect the more expensive and less productive farming processes. The majority of eggs sold in Massachusetts stores are from out-of-state and produced in farms that do not meet the proposed regulations, according to WBUR.
There are many who argue that these new practices will raise the cost of eggs by only a few pennies (one to five per shell by most estimates), but this is heavily dependent on market conditions.
If companies know they can charge more for their supposedly “cage-free” products, and if they know that Massachusetts customers will have to pay more due to their limited options, then companies will charge more. Unless companies can be counted on to create a competitive environment in which each is trying to make costs as low as possible, the consumer will be subject to their whims.
When California enacted a similar law in 2015, egg prices increased from 48 cents to $1.08 per dozen, according to an estimate from the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics. California residents are now paying an average of 90 percent more for eggs than the rest of the nation.
This price increase may seem inconsequential to college students, who rarely have to buy eggs, but it can create a make or break situation for those in low-income brackets. Eggs are a quick, nutritious and low-cost meal option.
For consumers who cannot afford a more high-quality protein, eggs are one of the only healthy, affordable options. Those reliant on SNAP or WIC benefits will not see an increase in their stipends if the price of eggs rise. This may drive these consumers to buy less healthy, but less expensive, items. The accessibility of healthy options for low-income groups is dependent on keeping prices low. The passage of Question 3 would undermine this accessibility.
Additionally, Massachusetts consumers could expect to see the pork supply shrink. Most of the Massachusetts pork supply comes from large, out-of-state pig operations that do not adhere to the proposed confinement regulations. In fact, the majority of the pork produced in the entire country does not adhere to the proposed regulations. As with eggs, consumers could expect to see pork costs rise considerably, according to WBUR.
While the compassion at the heart of Question 3 is commendable, the economic ramifications for Massachusetts consumers – especially those in low income brackets – cannot be justified.