United States: Ballot Initiatives Reinvented

Last Updated: December 4 2015
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

Citizens in the State of Massachusetts may be considering a ballot initiative next fall that would severely limit the sale of meat and eggs imported from out of state and would significantly drive up the price of eggs, veal and pork sold in the state, according to Richard Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation, as reported by Shira Schoenberg at www.masslive.com.

The Citizens for Farm Animal Protection, a coalition of animal rights activists, was formed in the summer of 2015 to collect the required signatures to certify the petition so it could be included on the ballot in 2016. The petition was certified by Mass.' Attorney General, Petition number 15-11—An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals.

A summary of the petition is available on the state's website:

SUMMARY OF NO. 15-11

This proposed law would prohibit any farm owner or operator from knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely. The proposed law would also prohibit any business owner or operator in Massachusetts from selling whole eggs intended for human consumption or any uncooked cut of veal or pork if the business owner or operator knows or should know that the hen, breeding pig, or veal calf that produced these products was confined in a manner prohibited by the proposed law. The proposed law would exempt sales of food products that combine veal or pork with other products, including soups, sandwiches, pizzas, hotdogs, or similar processed or prepared food items.

The proposed law's confinement prohibitions would not apply during transportation; state and county fair exhibitions; 4-H programs; slaughter in compliance with applicable laws and regulations; medical research; veterinary exams, testing, treatment and operation if performed under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian; five days prior to a pregnant pig's expected date of giving birth; any day that pig is nursing piglets; and for temporary periods for animal husbandry purposes not to exceed six hours in any twenty-four hour period.

The proposed law would create a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation and would give the Attorney General the exclusive authority to enforce the law, and to issue regulations to implement it. As a defense to enforcement proceedings, the proposed law would allow a business owner or operator to rely in good faith upon a written certification or guarantee of compliance by a supplier.

The proposed law would be in addition to any other animal welfare laws and would not prohibit stricter local laws.

The proposed law would take effect on January 1, 2022.

The ballot initiative process has been used by animal activists for many years to advance their cause.

As Wayne Pacelle notes, the use of the initiative by animal advocates has a long history.

'If used properly, direct democracy could significantly change the status of animals in many states.'

Between 1990 and 2008, animal advocates squared off against factory farmers, hunters, and other animal industries in 41 statewide ballot campaigns, winning in 28 campaigns and marking a huge surge in the use of the process on animal issues.

74 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1109, 1109 (Summer 2003).

The AVMA provides a summary of recent ballot initiatives activists have successfully advanced:

Florida saw the first successful challenge in 2002. After lobbying the state legislature unsuccessfully, activists gathered 690,000 signatures to get a proposed amendment to the state constitution on the ballot to prohibit the confinement or tethering of pregnant pigs in such a manner that the pig is prevented from turning around freely.

In 2002, Florida voters approved the amendment. According to the final results, 2,611,011 Floridians or about 55% voted in favor of the amendment and 2,157,047 or 45% voted against it.

Arizona voters followed suit in 2006 by voting in favor of a ballot initiative to ban intensive confinement of gestating pigs and calves raised for veal by 2013. The proposal was approved by 61% of the voters.

In Nov. 2008, California voters approved the ballot initiative Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, also known as Proposition 2, with 63% of the vote. It will prohibit, effective 2015, confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up and fully extend their limbs. This is the first time voters were asked to eliminate the practice of confining chickens in battery cages. Because there are few veal producers in California and the largest pork producer in the state voluntarily had planned to eliminate small crates, the law will mostly affect the state's 20 million egg-laying hens. Statements from supporters of the initiative indicate that similar measures could be headed to other states.

Time will tell whether the Mass. Farm Animal Ballot Initiative will be successful, and if so, what its impact will be on consumers in that state.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
 
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