Some call it “Egg Armageddon.” Others predict “temporary chaos.” Whatever you choose to call it, breakfast enthusiasts in Massachusetts should beware: a spectacular shortage of eggs is on the way.
Starting on January 1, every company selling eggs in Massachusetts must provide at least 1.5 square feet of floor space for each egg-laying hen. Voters overwhelmingly approved an animal welfare law mandating these new standards in 2016, by a 78–22% margin.
But voters did not think this through, and lawmakers have been far too slow in their response. As a result, even five years after the law was approved, very few egg suppliers comply with the rigorous new standards. In fact, Massachusetts will have the strictest rules for egg sales in the country. All other states only require 1 square foot per hen, rather than 1.5. Moreover, every national organization that certifies cage-free eggs also uses 1 square foot as their standard.
Egg suppliers have found it impossible to meet a substantially higher standard just for Massachusetts consumers. Doing so before the New Year is undoubtedly out of the question. While local Massachusetts farms largely comply with the law, out-of-state commercial farms are not, meaning virtually all out-of-state eggs would be banned. This unacceptable situation threatens to bring the entire industry to its knees and cost consumers dearly.
Bill Bell, who runs the New England Brown Egg Council, estimates that over 90% of eggs in Massachusetts would become illegal on January 1. Families could be forced to shell out as much as $5 for a dozen eggs in that scenario. David Radlo, a former president of the Egg Council, worries that many residents will head to nearby Connecticut, Rhode Island, or New Hampshire – not just to buy eggs, but their entire cart of groceries.
“Many residents will be forced to cross state borders to buy their eggs,” Radlo said. “Grocers near the state’s borders will lose business. In addition, eggs that are available will be far more costly, affecting retail consumers, Massachusetts bakers, restaurants, and all institutions with food service departments.”
Now that the law is just one month from taking effect, state legislators are frantically trying to pass an update to the law that would avert the looming shortage of eggs. The House and Senate have each passed their version of legislation modifying the 2016 voter-approved law. Both would mandate only 1 square foot of space per hen, in line with standards in other states.
Yet minor differences between the House and Senate bills have created a standoff over the final version. Since lawmakers are now in “informal session,” it only takes one lawmaker to stop the bill from being approved, and compromise has proven elusive.
The egg industry and animal rights groups have formed an unlikely alliance over the fast-approaching shortage. After facing off over the original 2016 animal rights law, groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Animal Rescue League of Boston are joining forces with the New England Brown Egg Council to pressure lawmakers to finally change the law after months of failed negotiations.
But their window of opportunity is quickly closing. If lawmakers cannot secure a compromise modifying the voter-approved animal rights law by the end of December, Massachusetts families and grocers will endure an Egg Apocalypse of epic proportions – and they will only have themselves to blame.