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NJ Gov. Chris Christie Vetoes Pig Gestation Crate Ban

(Photo: Bob Jagendorf)

(Photo: Bob Jagendorf)

Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, has vetoed a bill that would have banned gestation crates, which severely harm the mobility and sanity of pregnant pigs.

The bill (S998) would have directed the New Jersey Board of Agriculture to adopt rules and regulations “prohibiting the confinement, in an enclosure, of any sow during gestation in a manner that prevents the sow from turning around freely, lying down, standing up, or fully extending the limbs of the animal.”

In vetoing the measure, which had been approved by an overwhelming majority of both Republicans and Democrats in the New Jersey legislature, Christie urged lawmakers “to turn their attention to actual problems facing New Jersey” and decried what he called “partisan politics.”

But critics of all political stripes accused Christie, who is widely believed to be positioning himself for a 2016 presidential run, of currying favor with Iowa farmers. Not only is Iowa the site of the first presidential caucuses, it is also the nation’s leading pig farming state. Terry Branstad, Iowa’s Republican governor, as well as many of the state’s pig farmers, had urged Christie to veto the bill.

“I called him to tell him how bad I thought it would be and how the people that are involved in pork production, that really understand this, feel this would be very bad,” Branstad told the Associated Press. “I just think, unfortunately New Jersey’s a state that doesn’t raise a lot of hogs. There’s a lot of misinformation.”

According to the Asbury Park Press, there are roughly 300 farms housing some 9,000 pigs in New Jersey, compared to some 20 million hogs—about a third of the nation’s pig population—in Iowa.

“This is an issue that most people in New Jersey have no clue,” Branstad said. “They don’t raise hardly any pigs in New Jersey.”

Like many gestation crate proponents, Branstad cites the danger of piglets being crushed to death by their mothers as justification for their use. But Anna West, deputy director of media relations for the Humane Society of the United States, told Moral Low Ground that this is a non-issue.

“It’s ironic that Governor Branstad says most of the people of New Jersey have ‘no clue, when it’s Branstad himself who’s ill-informed,” West wrote in an email. “The bill in New Jersey seeks to ban gestation crates, which are pre-birthing crates. There are no piglets at risk when they are in utero. Yet Branstad’s only substantive argument focuses on crushing of the pigs. Who is it who has no clue?”

Animal advocacy groups are uniformly opposed to gestation crates. According to the Humane Society of the United States, most breeding pigs in the US are confined to gestation crates for virtually their entire lives. The crates severely restrict their movement—they are only about two feet (0.6 meters) wide; pigs can neither turn around nor take more than one step forward or backward.

(Photo: Humane Society of the United States)

(Photo: Humane Society of the United States)

The extreme restriction caused by gestation crates literally drives pigs crazy.

“You don’t need to be a pig psychiatrist to see that the animals go insane in these crates,” wrote former Iowa Farmers Union president and longtime family farmer Chris Petersen in an Asbury Park Press editorial. “Many develop obsessive behaviors indicating profound distress, such as endlessly waving their heads back and forth. Others continuously bite the metal bars in front of them to the point that their gums and teeth are destroyed.”

“We’ve got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go.” said renowned animal husbandry scientist Temple Grandin. “Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.”

Proponents of gestation crates often cite economics when resisting more humane housing options for pigs. But a two-year Iowa State University study concluded that group housing, an alternative to gestation crates in which pigs can move around and socialize, could actually save money.

“Reproductive performance can be maintained or enhanced in well-managed group housing systems…without increasing labor,” the study stated. “Group housing…resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system.”

In addition to animal advocates, a host of celebrities including Bill Maher, Danny DeVito, Martha Stewart, Edie Falco and Jon Stewart—who skewered Christie in a “Daily Show” segment on the matter last month—urged the governor sign the bill.

But the always-controversial Christie was unmoved. He called the bill a “solution in search of a problem” and a “political movement masquerading as substantive policy,” and said the fate of gestation crates should be decided by the state Board of Agriculture, which currently allows them.

But some of the nation’s biggest corporations have been shamed by protests and undercover activist exposés—or have decided on their own—to eschew the cruel crates.

“McDonald’s, Safeway, Costco, and others have decided to cleanse their supply chains of pork from operations that don’t let the animals move, and even major producers like Smithfield Foods are making the switch,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.

“This veto shows cynical political calculation from the governor and an obvious capitulation to special interests, rather than leadership or humanity,” Pacelle added.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak, the Democrat who authored the bill, accused Christie of “putting his personal political ambitions ahead of the humane treatment of animals.”

“It has the support of the people of New Jersey as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the legislature, but the governor chose to follow the dictates of special interests in Iowa,” Lesniak said in a statement.

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One Comment

  1. AnneDecember 2, 2014 at 12:24 amReply

    Put Christie himself in a gestation crate for a week or so, he might change his piggish mind.

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