An article in the LaCrosse (Wisconsin) Tribune provides a good overview of both sides of the “animal welfare” issue. The article notes that voters in Massachusetts recently passed a law that strictly regulates how farm animals are confined. Such laws are becoming more common across the U.S., but the restrictive laws have taken hold so far in states with relatively small agriculture industries for animals and animal products and fewer large-scale farming operations, the article notes. Now, large-scale industrial farmers are pushing for changes that would make it harder for states to further regulate the way they do business.

They say our nation’s ability to protect its food supply can be threatened by unnecessary regulations driven by activist agendas, often by people who’ve never set foot on farmland or have no idea what it takes to produce a crop. Agricultural economists agree, pointing to an 18 percent increase in the price of eggs (about 49 cents a dozen) in California last year after a law passed creating strict space requirements for hens. The law applies not just to producers in the state but to producers in other states that sell eggs there.

But consumer expectations already are forcing producers to change how they operate, counters a spokesman for the other side. Demand for free-range eggs and grass-fed beef is growing, pushing large companies to change their standards. Wal-Mart and McDonald’s recently committed to using only suppliers that raise cage-free hens by 2025. Market demands will force producers to change their practices or be left behind. Still others say consumers should have the option of buying meat and eggs without paying a premium for special animal treatment. Not everyone can afford to pay premium prices, and others don’t want to pay premium prices. READ MORE