ANTI-POVERTY ADVOCATE FILES SUIT AGAINST HSUS-SUPPORTED BALLOT INITIATIVE
Local anti-poverty activist Diane Sullivan, along with Massachusetts farmers James Dunn, has filed a lawsuit that asks the courts to remove a proposed 2016 animal rights ballot measure introduced by a coalition that includes Humane Society of the United States.
The proposed initiative petition (no. 15-11) could create strict new regulations on farmers and place new restrictions on interstate commerce. Lawyers from HSUS and the rest of the coalition were integral in drafting the proposal that would go before Massachusetts voters.
Experts warn that the proposed rules will actually harm animals, while driving up the cost of food for Massachusetts families. Diane Sullivan is the policy director for a Boston-based advocacy organization and herself one of more than 450,000 Massachusetts households who participates in the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).
She argues that the consequences of such a ballot measure are hidden in the vague language:
"Too often, we design and implement policies that have these unintended consequences that play out on the backs of most vulnerable neighbors, particularly low income elders and children. As demonstrated in California, this ballot measure will absolutely cause an across the board increase to the cost of eggs, perhaps the most accessible and affordable source of protein available to us all. Already, farmers and grocers across the state provide consumers options regarding where their food comes from and how it was raised. The choices are vast and ever-growing, from cage-free to free-range, from grass-fed to pasture-raised; the list goes on. The choices are there - and when people have the means and the desire to choose a more expensive food option, they can. Our neighbors struggling to pay the rent do not have that same luxury. We simply cannot afford to continue to devalue their already diminished purchasing power by furthering this initiative."
The economics behind the proposed measure could be devastating, according to studies from researchers at Cornell University and Oklahoma State University.
Research also suggests that it would not help animals either. The Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply studied cage-free systems and discovered that they can lead to increased instances of bone breaks and cannibalism, and higher mortality rates in egg-laying hens.
Protect The Harvest Executive Director Brian Klippenstein compares this measure to a regressive food tax:
“This Massachusetts ballot proposal is the expanded version of the regressive food tax increase imposed in California, government-directed consumer price gouging if you will. Official Government reports yesterday show that wholesale egg prices in California remain over twice the prices of eggs in the rest of our country despite false claims by food tax proponents that it is but a penny an egg. By limiting consumer choice and driving up protein prices, it is hoped by the mega-million dollar animal rights lobby that meatless Monday increasingly becomes meatless everyday by bullying low income powerless consumers out of the market."
The complaint filed argues that the initiative petition violates Article 48 of the Massachusetts Constitution. Under Article 48, initiative petitions must be in proper form for submission to the people and conform with the single subject rule (which demands a petition deal with only one main subject). The single subject rule exists in nearly every state in the country to protect citizens from answering multiple questions with one “yes” or “no” vote. If found unconstitutional, the initiative will not be placed on the November 2016 ballot.