Judge rules part of Massachusetts Question 3 unconstitutional

Federal judge orders the slaughterhouse exemption severed from the state’s Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animal Act.

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A federal judge in Massachusetts has found that an exemption in the state’s Prevent Cruelty to Farm Animal Act, also known as Question 3, was unconstitutional.

Judge William Young of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ordered the slaughterhouse exemption to be severed and allow the rest of the act to survive a legal challenge brought by pork producer Triumph Foods.

Triumph, which supplies pork to Seaboard Foods, filed a lawsuit in July 2023 challenging the constitutionality of Question 3 and laws like it, including California’s Proposition 12.

Question 3, passed by Massachusetts voters in 2016, makes it unlawful “for a farm owner or operator within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to knowingly cause any covered animal to be confined in a cruel manner.” This includes pigs, chicken and veal calves. The act defines “confined in a cruel manner” as confining a “breeding pig in a manner that prevents the animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending the animal’s limbs or turning around freely.” It also makes it unlawful for a “business owner or operator to knowingly engage in the sale within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts of any . . . whole pork meat that the business owner or operator knows or should know is the meat of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner, or is the meat of the immediate offspring of a covered animal that was confined in a cruel manner.”

Pork produced by St. Joseph, Missouri-based Triumph is sold into Massachusetts as well as throughout the country. Triumph’s facility is inspected under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). There are three pork processing facilities that are FMIA-inspected within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Outside Massachusetts, there are 101 other FMIA-inspected facilities that package and distribute such products for sale. Question 3 provides an exemption from its requirements for pork products when those products are sold on the premises of an FMIA-inspected facility. The slaughterhouse exemption only occurs for the sale at the inspected facility.

“If, for instance, a Massachusetts FMIA-inspected pork processer sold non-compliant pork on its premises to a grocery store, that sale would be exempt; however, the store’s attempts to then sell that non-compliant pork in-store, off the premises of the FMIA-inspected facility, would be covered under the act,” the judger wrote in his ruling. “Were that same pork processor to sell directly to the consumer at its facility, however, whether a family purchasing pork for dinner or a hospital chain purchasing pork to be served, not sold, to hundreds of patients, there would be no further sale of the pork after the sale on the facility’s premises, and the noncompliant pork sale would therefore be entirely exempt from the act.”

The judge said that, although the slaughterhouse exemption violates the dormant Commerce Clause, it does not render the entire act unconstitutional; instead, the provision may be severed from the rest of the act. The court could now consider whether act, with the slaughterhouse exemption severed, is now pre-empted by the FMIA.

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