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Mar. 9—BOSTON — A California-based animal rights group is ratcheting up pressure on Attorney General Maura Healey to release new regulations for a voter-approved law banning sales of eggs and meat from cage-confined animals.
In a recent court filing, lawyers representing the Humane Farming Association asked a state court to order Healey's office to issue draft rules by March 30, and argued that a delay jeopardizes farm animals.
"It's outrageous that we need to resort to litigation to force Attorney General Healey to follow the law," Bradley Miller, the group's national director, said in a statement. "Healey's failure to promulgate the regulations as required, as well as her support of industry efforts to reduce the amount of space provided to hens, is a cruel betrayal of farm animals and a slap in the face to Massachusetts voters."
Healey's office wrote in court filings that the regulations aren't finalized and denied the allegation that she refuses to issue them.
"In addition to meetings and conversations with animal welfare groups and industry representatives, she conducted an information session with interested stakeholders on Feb. 23," Healey's office wrote. "She anticipates promulgating the regulations before the statute's effective date of Jan. 1, 2022."
Question 3, which was approved by more than 77% of voters in 2016, bans shelled eggs, veal and other meat produced by cage-confined animals and establishes some of the toughest farm animal restrictions in the nation.
But regulations to implement the law, which goes into effect next January, have been postponed amid the pandemic and behind-the-scenes wrangling over provisions that food industry officials say make it unworkable.
Last month, meat and egg producers who supply the Massachusetts market asked regulators to delay implementation of the law, saying they won't have enough time to adjust their operations to comply.
Producers say the cage requirements, which mandate enclosures of at least 1 1/2 square-feet per bird, are stricter than what other states require and will lead to egg shortages and higher prices in Massachusetts.
They want the limit reduced to enclosures of about 1 square foot for large-scale, multi-tiered aviary farms that allow birds to move around more freely.
Several animal welfare groups that campaigned for the voter-approved law, including the Humane Society of United States, are on board with the push to reduce the size of enclosures, which they say will lead to better conditions for egg-laying hens as a result of concessions by the industry.
To be sure, Massachusetts isn't home to many of the large-scale egg and pork producing farms that supply regional distribution chains. Most eggs and meat sold here come from elsewhere.
But the new regulations would set up a new regulatory system to ensure that meat and eggs supplied to the state meet the cage confinement rules.
Healey wrote to lawmakers more than a year ago saying hers was "not the best suited government office to lead the regulatory effort" and urged them to transfer responsibility for drafting rules to the state Department of Agricultural Resources. Lawmakers haven't taken action on her request.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org