With a focus on food prices, farmers groups have joined with the Retailers Association of Massachusetts to launch a formal opposition campaign to a ballot question that would restrict farm animal confinement and require all eggs sold in Massachusetts to come from hens that have ample room to move around.
Membership in Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice includes the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, National Association of Egg Farmers, National Pork Producers Council, New England Brown Egg Council, Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, Protect the Harvest and "anti-poverty advocates," according to the group.
"Intentionally missing from the ballot statement is that Question 3 is, in fact, a food tax that seeks to steal affordable food choices that most of us make, causing undue harm to the hundreds of thousands of residents in the Commonwealth who already struggle to feed themselves and their families," said Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice chairman Diane Sullivan, described in a press release as a Medford mother who is formerly homeless and now advocates on behalf of low-income households.
According to the group, economists from Cornell University have estimated that passage of the ballot question would cost Massachusetts citizens $249 million in higher food prices in the first year.
Question 3 is backed by a group called Citizens for Farm Animal Protection, which includes the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England and other groups.
The supporters argue that it is cruel to confine veal calves, egg-laying hens and pigs so that the animals do not have room to turn around, and say that cage-free methods would cost one to two cents more per egg.
A recent WBUR poll shows 66 percent of likely voters support the initiative and 25 percent oppose it.
Support is high across all ages, education and income levels, according to the poll. Among different income levels, support is highest among people earning $40,000 or less (82 percent) and drops off slightly among people earning $40,000 to $100,000 (76 percent) and over $100,000 (75 percent).
The new opposition group, which filed its organization papers Wednesday with campaign finance officials, will face off against a well-funded campaign in favor of the question. Citizens for Farm Animal Protection first organized in August 2015, and now has more than $1.1 million in the bank, according to campaign finance records.
Citizens Against Food Tax Injustice said nearly 95 percent of the funding for Citizens for Farm Animal Protection comes "from deep-pocketed Washington, D.C.-, New York-, and California-based animal rights industry partners."