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April 28, 2014

Animal rights groups push for confinement cage ban

BOSTON — Animal rights activists are prodding Beacon Hill lawmakers to revive stalled legislation that would ban the use of confinement cages for farm animals, but farming industry officials say there’s no need to outlaw the practice.

Filed last year with bipartisan backing from more than 60 state lawmakers, the bill would have Massachusetts join nine other states that have banned confinement in cramped cages for breeding pigs, veal calves and egg-laying chickens. But the measure has languished amid a logjam of bills in the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee.

While confining-cage techniques are virtually non-existent in Massachusetts, supporters argue that a ban would prevent large-scale factory farms that use the practices from coming into the state.

“This is about ensuring that farm animals in the state are treated humanely,” said Alexis Fox, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Humane Society.

Farming industry representatives say a ban is unnecessary because the practice is not widespread in the state. They argue that animal rights activists are trying to impose a national agenda on the state’s small, mostly family-owned agricultural industry.

“These groups don’t want farm animals at all — their agenda is total veganism,” said Rich Bonanno, a Methuen vegetable and plant farmer and president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau. “And it’s not like these large-scale farms are standing on the border of Massachusetts waiting to come in. These groups want the Legislature to ban a practice that doesn’t exist in the state.”

The legislation, sponsored by state Sens. Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, and Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, is backed by a coalition of animal rights groups and dozens of lawmakers, including state Reps. John Keenan, D-Salem, and Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers. State lawmakers considered similar legislation in the 2011-12 session, but the bill stalled before it came to a vote.

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