From the May 2016 issue of Drovers.

When Congress failed to pass legislation in March to override Vermont’s GMO labeling law, food companies were forced to take action. Within days food marketers such as Mars, General Mills, Kellogg and ConAgra, announced they would begin labeling whether their products contain GMOs nationwide as a way to avoid the cost of maintaining multiple systems for different states. 

All of those companies have stated they agree with the scientific consensus that GMO foods are safe. However, with Vermont’s GMO labeling law scheduled to take effect July 1 there was no time to waste to bring their products into compliance. In effect, food companies are being forced to adopt practices that are both anti-science and cost inefficient.

Animal rights advocates are attempting to use a similar end-around play to hinder livestock and meat production. Unless struck down by the courts, Massachusetts voters might decide on a ballot initiative in November that would create strict new regulations on farmers and place new restrictions on interstate commerce. Initiative Petition No. 15-11 would ban, within the state, the production and sale of eggs from hens, and meat from pigs and calves kept in tight enclosures. While voters in other states have outlawed certain farming practices, no previous ballot question has attempted to ban the sale of meat and eggs from animals raised in a certain way.

One of the primary advocates of the initiative is the Humane Society of the U.S., long known as an activist organization seeking to end livestock production.

Why Massachusetts? The Boston Globe says, “The effort is set to bring a raging debate to a state with relatively little egg and meat production that’s not known for divisive battles over agricultural issues. And it could pose the biggest test yet of the ballot initiative as a way for animal welfare groups to move their cause forward.”

If successful, the Massachusetts initiative would have several unintended consequences. Local anti-poverty activist Diane Sullivan, one of more than 450,000 Massachusetts households who participates in the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), says Initiative 15-11 would further burden those who are least able to afford feel-good food.

“Already, farmers and grocers across the state provide consumers options regarding where their food comes from and how it was raised,” Sullivan says. “The choices are there—and when people have the means and the desire to choose a more expensive food option, they can.”

Initiative 15-11 would be unfavorable for animals, too. “The sad irony here is that this law will actually harm the welfare of farm animals,” says James H. Dunn, a family farmer from Wendell, MA. “This law will require farmers to use housing that is more expensive to build and makes animals more susceptible to injury, disease and death. The lawyers that wrote this law just don’t know anything about caring for livestock.”