Massachusetts Legislature Betrays “Egg‑Laying” Hens & Voters

Hens crowded in a big dutchman facility
Multi-tiered facilities are crowded with hens.
There is no “unfettered access to vertical space” in these densely packed facilities.

A Dec. 20, 2021 article, “Mass. Legislature passes animal welfare law changes, set to ease egg supply fears,” published in State House News Service, describes the process whereby “A last-minute legislative deal to rewrite key sections of a voter-approved animal welfare law landed on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk on Monday, less than two weeks before the scheduled start of new regulations that could impact the availability of eggs and pork in Massachusetts.”

“After House and Senate negotiators announced a deal on Sunday night, the branches on Monday quickly agreed to a bill (S 2603) updating the standards for housing egg-laying hens and delaying by seven and a half months the start of a ban on the sale of pork products from cruelly confined animals.”

“The bill overhauls a law voters passed via ballot question in 2016 just weeks before enforcement is set to begin, drawing fierce criticism from the Humane Farming Association, whose executive director accused other animal rights groups who support the measure of being ‘co-opted’ by business interests.”

The article explains that “Under the compromise legislation, farmers could house hens with a single square foot of floor space per bird if they are placed in ‘multi-tiered aviaries, partially-slatted cage-free housing systems or any other cage-free housing system that provides hens with unfettered access to vertical space.’ Single-level enclosures would still need to offer 1.5 square feet per hen.”

In fact, single-level enclosures are being replaced industry-wide by the multi-tiered systems.

As United Poultry Concerns and The Humane Farming Association have repeatedly observed, these “multi-tiered aviaries” for laying hens, rather than increasing the hens’ “welfare,” decrease it. The multi-tiered housing system is designed by the egg industry to pack more hens into a facility’s volume of space than is possible in a system in which all the hens in the facility are on the floor in so-called single-level enclosures.

And, contrary to claims that this multi-tiered housing system “provides hens with unfettered access to vertical space,” in reality, it “fetters” their access to the platforms (tiers) above the floor because the spaces are so overcrowded with hens, there is no available space for a hen to “access” without landing on other hens. This situation encourages the hens to “stay put” in their single square foot of living space per hen while increasing the likelihood of broken and fractured leg and wing bones in hens who try to fly up or down without hitting the hens above or below them.

This legislative betrayal of the birds, and of the will of the 77 percent of Massachusetts voters in 2016, supports the egg industry. It has nothing to do with making an already miserable life better for the hens.