On a night when Western liberals suffered a setback of about 200 years, there was at least one bright spot by way of the Massachusetts cage-free farming referendum. The referendum requires that all pork, veal, and eggs farmed and sold in the state come from livestock that is not confined to ultra-restrictive cages. The measure, which passed with a whopping 78 percent of the vote, is among the most progressive initiatives of its kind. And, depending on whether the county begins to show compassion for absolutely anything at all in the next four years, it could spark a chain of similar referenda in other states as well.
Known as Question 3 on the ballot, the Massachusetts cage-free farming referendum protects animals from cages known as battery cages—cramped quarters that give hens less than a sheet of paper's worth of space to move around—and mandates that livestock live in reasonable accommodations that provide them with more space to move around. Taking things a step further, the measure also bans the sale of livestock products from farms and other states that are not in compliance with the new Massachusetts law. The Massachusetts cage-free legislation will go into effect in 2022.
This win for animal rights activists marks a big step forward in the cage-free movement, which gained the support of food giants like McDonald's and Sodexo in 2016 as they pledged to go cage-free with their egg supply in coming years. Most organizations are opting instead for enriched cages that provide hens with more room to move and fewer cage-mates. The verdict is still out on whether or not enriched cages—also known as furnished cages—are that much of an improvement over regular battery cages. But according to a Fortune article on cage-free farming, having completely free-range chickens and hens can actually be detrimental to their health. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply conducted research that suggested hens may actually suffer from poorer health and more instances of aggression from their more dominant compatriots. In this context, enriched cages may actually provide a bit of breathing room for livestock that keeps them safer than a completely cageless facility. Plus, this keeps animals from being on the ground, reducing their exposure to parasites and bacteria present in their own droppings.
So even if it feels like we're hopelessly screwed at the moment in the hands of an inexperienced Cheeto of a president-elect, at least there will be more ethically sourced eggs in Massachusetts. Oh, and recreational marijuana.