Massachusetts lawmakers are considering changes to a 2016 animal welfare law that sets living standards for egg-laying hens and some livestock to avoid a possible egg shortage.
The voter law sets standards for how much space is required to keep pigs, calves and egg-laying hens. For hens it requires enough room for the birds to be capable of "fully spreading both wings without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens and having access to at least 1.5 square feet of usable floor space per hen."
The House gave initial approval Tuesday to a redrafted bill that would allow one square foot of space per bird in aviaries that allow "unfettered access to vertical space." The House rewrite of the legislation, supported by both farmers and animal welfare advocates, already passed in the Senate this summer.
As it stands, the law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. The House could vote to pass the amended version of the Senate-approved bill Wednesday. The branches would then have to agree on a consensus bill to send to Gov. Charlie Baker.
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During debate on its bill in June, Sen. Jason Lewis said standards and practices affecting egg-laying hens have evolved since voters approved new rules for the farms that produce eggs, pork and veal.
Many egg producers now use vertical aviaries -- instead of horizontal ones, with the birds all enclosed on a single level -- that provide hens with room to fly upwards, perch and roost, he said.
"If we don't take action, there will be very few egg producers who will actually be in compliance with the standard as established in the ballot question, and that is not enough egg producers to meet demand here in the commonwealth -- in fact far from it," Lewis said in June.