August 31, 2023

Interpretive Summary: Lawsuit filed against Massachusetts’ Question 3

Lawsuit filed against Massachusetts’ Question 3

By: Sydney Sheffield 

A group of pork producers have filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts against the Act to Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals (Question 3). Passed by voters in November 2016, Question 3 imposes confinement requirements on out-of-state pork producers and prohibits the sale of pork meat within the state from offspring of an animal confined in a manner inconsistent with Massachusetts' requirements, regardless of where in the nation the animal was raised. Question 3 was due to be implemented on July 12th, but the commencement was postponed to August 23rd. 

The Massachusetts law "prohibits 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." Exceptions to this confinement rule include temporary holding cells for transportation, fairs, medical research, veterinary exams, and other purposes.

The lawsuit includes Triumph Foods, Christensen Farms Midwest LLC, The Hanor Co. of Wisconsin LLC, New Fashion Pork LLP, Eichelberger Farms Inc., and Allied Producers’ Cooperative, which is a collective of smaller Midwest farmers. The lawsuit also expresses support for similar litigation initiated by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA).

"Discriminatory trade restrictions like Q3 and Prop 12 affect the ability to build resilient, reliable food supply chains across the United States," said Triumph Foods President and CEO Matt England. "They also hurt many small businesses, employees, consumers, and government-funded agencies. Free and fair interstate commerce is vital for the economic prosperity of our country."

This lawsuit comes on the heels of a district judge delaying Question 3 until August 23rd. This delay comes because of the Supreme Court’s recent decision on California’s Proposition 12. A previous agreement was reached between the Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General and a coalition led by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), that the law should be put on hold at least until 30 days after the United States Supreme Court issues a ruling in the California Proposition 12 lawsuit brought by NPPC and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). According to NPPC, Question 3 would not allow the transshipment of whole pork through the state jeopardizing an estimated $2 billion worth of pork that moves into neighboring New England states.

According to the lawsuit, the Biden Administration's Solicitor General has also raised concerns about Question 3 and Prop 12's discriminatory impact on other states, due process violations, the threat to the nation's food supply, and interference with the federal government's obligations to ensure food safety. In recent litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Solicitor General noted that Congress delegated food safety responsibilities, which includes the nation's pork supply, to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and to ensure all meat for sale throughout the country is safe to eat.

"The attempt by individual states to reach into the farms and processing plants to regulate our complex supply chain is unprecedented and dangerous. Laws like Q3 and Prop 12 put not just farmers at risk but threaten food security," said the plaintiffs. "The USDA already regulates foodborne illnesses. We cannot have each individual state try to usurp that role."

Read the Triumph Foods press release here