Scramble to stave off egg, meat shortage over after Charlie Baker signs changes to animal welfare law

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The struggle to stave off expected egg and meat shortages caused by a new chicken and farm animal welfare law ended after Governor Charlie Baker signed changes that would make it easier for farmers to adopt new standards.

“I signed the egg bill. It got cracked,” Baker said after an event at State House Wednesday morning.

Without legislative action, a new law was set to go into effect on January 1, making it illegal to sell eggs in Massachusetts from hens with less than 1.5 feet of cage space. Industry leaders have warned of shortages and an increase in prices as new regulations will cut up to 90% of eggs currently sold in the state from shelves.

The changes allow egg manufacturers using vertical bird systems to provide one square foot of floor space per chicken — a standard agreed by some animal care groups. The new law gives pork and veal farmers a grace period, giving them until August 15 to comply with new standards that allow farm animals more space.

But animal rights advocates say the “caused” changes to the law mean the animals will continue to suffer.

“Under the bill, hens were supposed to get the least amount of relief from extreme cruelty, but now even that tiny amount will be snatched away by this very tough industry,” says Tracy Riemann, executive vice president of PETA.

On Thursday, advocates for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will toss a Massachusetts home with smelly water balloons. With the show, the group will record its members’ disgust at the long list of changes to the bill that succumb to egg industry interests that they say would render the 2016 Animal Welfare Act approved by voters pointless, according to a press release.

“We urge consumers to refuse to buy eggs that chickens are very bad at,” Riemann said.

But lawmakers say the changes will ensure a safer supply chain for eggs and pork.

“Massachusetts is taking action to prevent cruelty to farm animals and to ensure our state continues to have eggs that meet the expectations of Commonwealth residents,” said Senate President Karen Špilka, D-Ashland.

House Speaker Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, says it allows “continued access to affordable egg and pork products, while respecting the intent of the animal welfare ballot question.”

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