The state's highest court on Wednesday ruled that voters can have a say in whether all eggs sold in the Massachusetts should be from hens that are cage-free, rejecting a challenge from opponents who say the measure could cause food prices to spike.
The ruling clears the way for the inclusion of the question on November's ballot, though signatures supporting the effort must still be filed by the end of Wednesday to office of Secretary of State William F. Galvin.
The Supreme Judicial Court's decision is a legal victory for animal welfare advocates, who are pushing the question as an attempt to protect farm animals from what they describe as inhumane conditions. The ballot measure is backed by the Humane Society of the United States.
If approved, the measure would require that, starting in 2022, Massachusetts farms and businesses produce and sell only eggs from cage-free hens; pork from pigs not raised in or born of a sow raised in a small crate; and veal from calves not raised in very tight enclosures.
One plaintiff in the lawsuit against the measure was a Medford mother who uses food stamps and is concerned about how rising food costs could affect her ability to feed her five children. Another was a Wendell farmer worried about "sentimentalists" interfering with farming practices.
The suit argued that Attorney General Maura Healey should not have certified the question because it asked voters to decide on issues the plaintiffs considered unrelated.
It also said the proposed law should not have contained a statement of purpose, which opponents argued goes outside of the scope of law.
The statement of purpose is "to prevent animal cruelty by phasing out extreme methods of farm animal confinement."
In its ruling, the court said it approved of the use of such statements, and used the statement included with the referendum question to explain why the justices believed it addressed a coherent topic.
"Both the farm provision and the sales provision share a common purpose of preventing farm animals from being caged in overly cramped conditions, consistent with the statement of purpose," the ruling said.