The impending shortage of pork and eggs that industry experts have warned about for months may now be averted after Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday signed off on changes to voter-approved animal housing standards.
An enthusiastic and pun-happy Baker told reporters he signed the Legislature's compromise bill amending the minimum dimensions that egg-laying hens must have and delaying the start of a ban on pork products from cruelly confined animals.
"I signed the egg bill. I got cracking. We unscrambled all of the information in it, and it's egg-cellent that it's signed," Baker said after a State House event.
The measure rewrites sections of a law voters approved via ballot question in 2016 just days before the new regulations take effect, reducing the required amount of enclosure space from 1.5 square feet per hen to one square foot per hen in multi-tiered aviary systems that give the birds "unfettered access to vertical space."
Egg industry leaders had advised of shifts in manufacturing in the years since the ballot question campaign, and warned most eggs would have become illegal for sale in Massachusetts without action from lawmakers.
The law delays by seven and a half months the start of a ban on pork products from pigs confined in any enclosure that prevents "lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal's limbs, or turning around freely." The initiative petition approved by voters called for that ban to begin on Jan. 1, 2022.
Some animal rights groups that worked on the 2016 ballot question campaign endorsed the changes, while others condemned the legislation and contended that it disregarded the will of voters.
"Under the bill, hens were to receive the smallest amount of relief from abject cruelty, but now even that pittance is to be snatched away by this deeply cruel industry," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman, who called for Baker to veto the bill, said in a statement Wednesday.