Local pig farmers to be unaffected by state’s new pork regulations

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 08-10-2023 3:26 PM

You’re unlikely to hear any squealing from local pig farmers about the impending enforcement of voter-approved pork regulations, as they say they’re already in compliance with the law aimed at improving the living conditions of swines raised for meat.

A federal judge on Monday approved a compromise joint motion between industry groups that had challenged the voter-approved law and state regulators. A prohibition on the sale of pork from pigs — even those raised and slaughtered in other states — kept in conditions deemed too cramped is set to be enforced starting Aug. 24.

As part of the deal, however, products that pass through Massachusetts on their way to final sale destinations in other states will not be subject to the new requirements for at least six months, during which time the state Department of Agricultural Resources will work to amend language pertaining to pork products shipped through Massachusetts without being produced or sold here.

“We were already practicing that,” Joshua Mason, owner of Little Creek Farm in New Salem, said about the confinement regulations. “[My pigs] have pens where they move around.”

The regulations require that pigs have enough space to lie down, stand up, turn around freely and fully extend their limbs. No Massachusetts business will be allowed to sell any whole pork meat derived from animals denied this space, regardless of where they were raised, slaughtered and butchered.

“I like them to be able to move around,” Mason said. “It’s beneficial.”

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Voters in 2016 gave their blessing to the ballot question prohibiting the sale of eggs, veal and pork from animals held in conditions deemed cruel. The egg and veal regulations went into effect years ago, but the National Pork Producers Council, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association and other groups filed a lawsuit to block the portion of the measure that impacts their industry. The state regulations will also ban gestation stalls, which are used for pregnant pigs, called sows.

Like Mason, the owners of River Bard Farm in Deerfield say the new regulations won’t affect pork sales or require any changes to how they raise pigs.

“The welfare of our animals is our highest priority, and they (pigs) are raised on woodlot and pasture, as opposed to factory-farmed pigs that spend their entire lives in conditions that are crowded and unhealthy,” co-owner Angela Burwick wrote in an email. “These new regulations are long overdue, and will help protect these intelligent and sensitive animals. Our pigs have wide open outdoor spaces for exercise, foraging and farrowing (giving birth), and are able to exhibit natural pig behavior, including grazing, rooting, socializing, sunbathing and wallowing.”

Elizabeth Magner, an animal advocacy specialist with the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Medical Center in Boston, said her organization is relieved to know the regulations, which were approved by nearly 78% of voters, are finally going into effect.

“We’re eager to see them implemented,” she said. “At long last this law that voters overwhelmingly were in favor of back in 2016 … [is] going to be put into effect and will reflect the will of the people of Massachusetts.”

Magner said animals kept in intensive confinement are extremely susceptible to diseases, some of which can become zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between species from animals to humans. She also said the new regulations are less cruel and will help move away from factory farming, which she said, “can serve as Petri dishes, where viruses can mutate.”

Tyler Sage, who owns Sage Farm in Bernardston, also said the regulations won’t affect his farming practices at all, because he uses free-farrowing crates for his pigs.

“My systems are all pasture-based,” he said.

Sage said he started raising pigs 10 years ago because of the low startup costs and relatively quick return on investment. He said a farmer can finish raising a pig in six months, as opposed to the 2½ years needed for a beef cow.

Mason, like Sage, said sows are in farrowing crates for only 10 to 14 days. He added that the crates were designed to reduce the number of piglets that are crushed to death by the sow after birth. Though his operation won’t be affected by the measure, Mason said he is wary about over-regulation.

“People have done this stuff for years and years and years without government interference,” he said. “Nothing’s ever going to be perfect. We’ve just got to grin and bear it and see what we can do.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or
413-930-4120.

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