Voters in Massachusetts are poised to pass the most wide-ranging farm animal protection law in history.
The ballot measure, known as Question Three in the state, asks voters to vote yes or no on a law that would "prohibit any farm from knowingly confining any breeding pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a way that prevents the animal from laying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs or turning around freely."
If passed, the law would guarantee greater protections to farm animals in Massachusetts than in any other state. But it doesn't stop there -- the law would also prohibit businesses in the state from selling eggs or meat from animals raised in tiny crates and cages.
Proponents are appealing to voters' sense of empathy with a campaign that emphasizes the conditions farm animals are kept in for their entire lives before slaughter.
"Whether you're a vegetarian, or a meat-eater, or anything in between, everybody should be able to agree that a baby veal calf, a mother pig, an egg-laying hen ought to be able to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs," the Humane Society's Paul Shapiro said at an Oct. 4 debate on the ballot measure, per WCVB. "We wouldn't allow that type of cruelty for a dog or a cat."
In 2015, a study of pig intelligence concluded the animals "are cognitively complex and share many traits with animals whom we consider intelligent," including chimpanzees and dogs.
The researchers from Emory University and the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy told the Huffington Post that pigs are "emotionally and socially sophisticated beings," displaying behavior that hints at hidden layers of intelligence -- like distinguishing between people who have been kind to them and people who aren't, distinguishing pigs they know from pigs they don't, and even engaging in social manipulation among other pigs.
The practice of restraining calves to produce veal has long been controversial. Because exercise makes the meat tougher, animal farmers place baby calves in tiny cages that restrict almost all movement -- and those calves spend their lives in the cages until they're slaughtered.
But the food industry is pushing back against the ballot measure.
Bill Bell, of the New England Brown Egg Council, said consumers already have the option to buy eggs raised in cage-free environments, and argued that the ballot measure would restrict choice.
"If you believe that eggs should be produced in a cage-free environment, you can buy those eggs right now," Bell said, according to WCVB. "This is America and the marketplace responds."
Bell echoed others in the food industry by warning the cost of eggs and other staples could go up.
"To begin with, it will increase the price of food substantially for everyone, including especially those least able to afford it," he said.
The farm industry and animal welfare advocates agree that eggs will increase in price if cage-free practices become mandatory, but they differ in their projections. The Humane Society estimates it would cost farmers only 15 cents more to produce per dozen. The Wall Street Journal, quoting an industry source, said the cost of eggs could increase by 60 percent.
The animal welfare campaigners also face opposition from another quarter -- advocates for the poor. Diane Sullivan of Medford, Massachusetts, is one of them.
“Eggs are an essential part of the everyday diet of folks," she told WBUR. "So I think of my children, I think of other families who go through that struggle every day, and to essentially remove probably the most affordable and accessible form of protein from the diets of those who are already not perhaps eating enough nutritious food to me doesn't seem very humane."