Today, we celebrate great progress for egg-laying hens, which caps off a year of wins for farm animals across the country.

Here’s some background about what just happened for hens in Massachusetts: In 2016, the Humane Society of the United States and a coalition of the leading Massachusetts and national animal protection organizations waged and won a ballot measure campaign in Massachusetts requiring that veal calves, mother pigs and egg-laying hens be given enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. The law also banned the sale of products from farmers who didn’t meet this standard.

This ballot measure received overwhelming support, earning a whopping 78% of the vote. At the time, it was the strongest law for farm animals in the world.

However, we are in constant pursuit of helping more animals and strengthening protections for them. In the years following the ballot measure in Massachusetts, we’ve successfully campaigned for the passage of even stronger laws for egg-laying hens: In 2018, our campaigning led to the passage of a historic and even stronger farm animal protection law in California, Proposition 12. We then won similar legislative victories in Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

In light of these remarkable developments, we faced a decision: allow Massachusetts’ older—now weaker—protections for hens to stand or to raise the bar? To us, the answer was easy.

We are proud to report another campaign victory: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker just signed into law an upgrade to the state’s ballot measure for egg-laying hens. The new standard has precise cage-free standards which improve the treatment of hens by mandating that farms provide areas for the birds to perch, scratch, dust bathe and lay eggs in a nesting area—critical natural behaviors for these wonderful yet mistreated birds.

And while the original legislation in Massachusetts solely applied to whole eggs that are still in a shell (such as the eggs sold in grocery cartons), this new legislation also covers egg products, like liquid eggs used at restaurants and university dining halls. We estimate this law will save an additional two million chickens annually from ever being confined in a cage.

Massachusetts’ new law does, however, temporarily permit pork producers to continue to use current inhumane but standard confinement practices for another seven and a half months. Under the old law, this practice was set to be phased-out by January 1, 2022.

Despite that delay, overall, today’s victory is cause for celebration. We’re especially thankful for our Massachusetts coalition partners who fought for years for this day, including the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Rescue League of Boston and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Because of our focused and unified efforts, we’re one step closer—actually, two million hens closer—to a day when no chicken will be caged ever again.

A remarkable year of wins for farm animals

This year our combined legislative and corporate progress produced a new milestone here in the U.S.: nearly 33% of the U.S. egg industry is now cage-free. This is up from less than 5% when we started our cage-free campaign in 2005. That translates to more than 100 million hens every year who will never know the misery of cage confinement.

And on the international front, Humane Society International secured new commitments from 382 food service accounts around the world to transition 20% or more of their animal-based meals to plant-based offerings. When fully implemented, these commitments will result in more than 23.8 million plant-based meals replacing animal-based meals every year.

Here's a closer look at the wins scored for farm animals in 2021.

Changing the paradigm for egg-laying hens, mother pigs and baby calves

This year, just in the U.S., the lives of egg industry hens improved dramatically. Beyond our Massachusetts victory today, Utah earlier banned the confinement of egg-laying hens in cages and required vital enrichments for the birds, including perches, nest boxes and areas designed for scratching and dustbathing so that they can engage in natural behaviors. It is a sharp departure from the egg industry’s practice of locking hens in barren wire cages, known as battery cages, that are so small the birds can’t even extend their wings. Later in the year, we scored a similar legislative win for hens in Nevada, which banned the caging of egg-laying hens and banned the sale in the state of eggs that come from caged hens.

From fighting the cruel practices of caging pregnant pigs to helping food-service companies transition to offering more plant-based meals, our farm animal work has made incredible strides in 2021.

As we expected, the meat industry has been fighting the will of voters and the promise of a more humane future for farm animals. When the meat industry challenged Proposition 12, we intervened in the lawsuits. The Supreme Court declined to take the North American Meat Institute’s case against Proposition 12. This decision was critically important to all of our sales bans enacted to protect animals and consumers—from banning the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet shops to banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. We then secured another major victory when the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against the National Pork Producers Council in its challenge to the law. Lastly, a separate meat industry lawsuit was rejected by a federal judge in Iowa. The courts’ dismissals of these meat industry challenges are critically important to preserve all the sales bans on cruelly produced animal products which we have worked so hard to enact.

Working with the food industry for a more humane future

Another key component of our work for farm animals is to work with food industry corporations to decrease the suffering of animals in their supply chains and to train industry professionals about plant-based alternatives to meat.

Stateside in 2021, we persuaded food corporations to implement key reforms for farm animals. Just a few of our victories include:

We continue to work with the largest food service companies, which provide millions of meals at institutions such as hospitals, school districts, universities, military bases and correctional facilities, to achieve our goal of 50% of food service menu offerings being plant-based in the next three years. We are uniquely positioned to do this work since we have registered dietitians, professional chefs and food service professionals on our staff who are developing plant-based menu concepts and working with the companies on how to implement these offerings. We’ve grown our relationships with the country’s biggest companies in the sector, including Sodexo, Compass Group and Aramark.

And this progress doesn’t stop at U.S. borders. HSI forged a partnership with Sodexo Canada to transition 20% of its protein purchases at more than 200 locations across the country to plant-based food. In Brazil, we secured a commitment from the city of Botucatu to transition 20% of meals served in all 62 municipal schools to plant-based food. We also planned and executed more than 73 trainings and cooking demonstrations on plant-based cooking, reaching more than 2,700 chefs, culinary students and employees.

In 2021, 19 more multinational food companies committed to going cage-free with HSI, building further momentum for the cage-free movement. Since 2018, HSI has been working to help farmers all over the world transition to cage-free systems. This year, Nam Huong became the first certified cage-free egg producer in Vietnam, providing cage-free eggs to the largest supermarkets in Ho Chi Minh City; the launch was also covered extensively in the press, which helped educate people about the benefits of cage-free eggs. And companies are also helping to share information with each other about going cage-free: V.Food, one of the largest egg distributors in the country, spoke at our technical workshop in October, sharing its experience with other egg producers in the region.

Looking ahead

Being a voice for farm animals in courtrooms, legislatures and board rooms is incredibly important and difficult work. We couldn’t have done this without you, our vast network of dedicated supporters who are calling to your lawmakers, signing petitions and sharing the hidden stories of these animals.

As we head into 2022, we expect to continue to fight to score new progress for farm animals and protect the hard-won progress we’ve already made. I’m sure you’ll be with us every step of the way.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.