Attorneys general from 12 states have challenged a Massachusetts ballot measure approved in November 2016 that bans confinement of farm animals and restricts the sale of animal products in the state that were produced under these confinement practices. The states filled a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges Massachusetts’ efforts to regulate farming in other states, claiming that it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The animal law passed by Massachusetts voters defined the term “confined in a cruel manner” to mean: “Confined so as to prevent a covered animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs or turning around freely.” Fully extending was also defined as meaning “fully extending all limbs without touching the side of an enclosure.”

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and the attorneys general from Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin challenged Massachusetts’ “attempt to impose regulatory standards on farmers from every other state by dictating conditions of housing for poultry, hogs and calves when their products will be offered for sale in Massachusetts.”

The Massachusetts law will go into effect on January 1, 2022. However, the 12 attorneys general complaint to the Supreme Court notes that farmers must begin to plan for compliance now. Farm operators will need to start planning immediately for the financial burden imposed by compliance with the Massachusetts animal law and any forthcoming regulations promulgated to implement the law, the complaint said.

Indiana and the plaintiff states want the Supreme Court to decide that Massachusetts’ animal law “is unconstitutional, in violation of the Commerce Clause to the United States Constitution, on the basis that it imposes an impermissible extraterritorial regulation of commercial activity occurring wholly in another state.” The complaint also claims that this “extraterritorial regulation will increase the costs of producing and marketing farm commodities nationwide, including for farmers and consumers in plaintiff states.”

The states claim that they have direct standing to challenge the animal law because their agencies own and operate farms and sell regulated commodities on the national market as part of a supply chain that reaches Massachusetts.

The plaintiff states will have to decrease their flock and herd sizes and undertake contentious zoning approval processes to comply with the Massachusetts law or else “forgo completely any sales in Massachusetts or to national distributors that may resell products in Massachusetts.”

Dr. Jason Lusk, dean of agriculture at Purdue, filed a declaration supporting the attorneys general brief. Lusk pointed out that when California passed its egg production law, California’s hen population “was reduced by an average of 4.4 million birds each month relative to what would have been observed in the absence of the California animal welfare) laws. Lusk also confirmed that state efforts to regulate agriculture causes price increases for consumers.  In California, for example, the state’s animal welfare law caused the average price of a dozen eggs to rise about 22 percent.