Meat & Livestock News

Massachusetts’ Question 3 Faces Legal Scrutiny


  • A federal judge has declared a specific exemption within Massachusetts’ Question 3, aimed at preventing cruelty to farm animals, as unconstitutional.
  • The exemption allowed for the on-site purchase of pork at slaughterhouses, a provision now ruled in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.
  • The ruling opens the door for further legal challenges, particularly concerning the Federal Meat Inspection Act’s preemption over state law.

In a significant legal development on February 5th, Judge William Young of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled against an exemption in the state’s Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, known as Question 3. The law, initially approved by Massachusetts voters in 2016, was challenged by Triumph Foods last fall, leading to this pivotal decision.

Question 3 mandates that pork sold within Massachusetts must adhere to specific sow housing space requirements. However, an exemption allowed pork produced in federally inspected facilities within the state to be sold directly from these locations, bypassing the need for compliance at grocery stores or retail outlets.

Judge Young identified this exemption as a breach of the dormant Commerce Clause, noting it unfairly imposed higher costs on out-of-state pork processors compared to their Massachusetts counterparts. The exemption, according to Young, could be severed, leaving the rest of the law intact.

This ruling marks a crucial moment for the industry, as highlighted by Triumph Foods. Matt England, the company’s president and CEO, expressed satisfaction with the progress made through this decision. England emphasised the importance of national standards for food safety and the role of consumer choice, suggesting that state laws should not infringe upon these principles.

The ruling also grants Triumph 30 days to file a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the Federal Meat Inspection Act preempts state law, potentially setting a precedent for the relationship between federal and state regulations concerning food production.

The case against Question 3 is part of a broader national debate on animal confinement laws, with similar challenges being raised against California’s Proposition 12. In May 2023, the US Supreme Court ruled against the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation in their challenge of Proposition 12, underscoring the contentious nature of state-level animal welfare legislation.

As the legal battles unfold, the agricultural and food industries closely watch the implications of these rulings on state and federal regulations, animal welfare standards, and the operational costs for producers across the country.