Voters will decide in November whether all eggs sold in Massachusetts should come from cage-free hens.
But first, a debate.
A representative from the Humane Society, in favor of the measure, and the New England Brown Egg Council, opposed, will argue the merits of Question 3 in a Tuesday afternoon tete-a-tete sponsored by The Boston Globe, public radio station WBUR, and the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies.
The debate, the second in a series on the four ballot questions before voters this fall, comes a week after a WBUR poll showed voters strongly in support of the animal welfare measure, with 66 percent backing it and 25 percent opposed. The question would also require the sale of pork and veal from animals not raised in very tight enclosures.
Supporters have pitched the measure as a modest check on what they call the inhumane treatment of animals. Most laying hens, they say, are currently confined to cages with less space than a piece of printer paper — that’s not enough to spread their wings.
But opponents have attempted to shift the debate to pocketbook concerns, emphasizing that the cage-free mandate will raise the price of eggs. Estimates range from 12 cents per dozen on the low end to 80 cents or more on the high end.
Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society, told the Globe earlier this year that even if the cost hike is on the high end of that range, it would only cost the average egg consumer about $1 more per month.
“There is no doubt,” he said, “that when you account for the increased hidden costs [of caged hens] like increased animal cruelty and increased food safety risk, it’s certainly worth it.”
Paul Sauder, an executive at Sauder’s Eggs, a Pennsylvania producer that ships eggs to Massachusetts, told the Globe earlier this year that the price hike will make it more difficult for some people to afford eggs.
“So what are they going to do?,” he said. “They’re going to buy less eggs, which means they’re going to deprive their family of that great source of protein because they can’t afford it.”
The debate will air live on WBUR’s “Radio Boston” at 3 p.m. and stream on wbur.org, bostonglobe.com, and umb.edu. Deborah Becker of “Radio Boston” and Globe political reporter Joshua Miller are set to moderate.
The first debate in the series, on a measure to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, was last Tuesday. Debates on the other two ballot questions, one authorizing an additional slots parlor and another legalizing recreational use of marijuana, will take place on subsequent Tuesdays.