Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently vetoed an animal rights bill that would prohibit the use of gestation crates for factory farmed pigs.
The veto made political news because Christie has presidential ambitions, and Iowa, the state with the first presidential caucus for the 2016 election, is a major pork producer. A good research paper topic may be to discuss politics and political decisions.
Animal cruelty versus protection of pigs
NJ Senate Bill 998, sponsored by Democratic Senator Ray Lesniak, would direct the state Department of Agriculture to prohibit “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.” The crates confine pigs in a space two feet wide by seven feet long, so small that the pigs cannot lay down or move. The pigs often bite the bars or mutilate themselves out of boredom. The bill was popular with 93 percent of New Jersey citizens as well as both of the state’s Republican and Democratic legislators.
Pig farmers and proponents of the use of gestation crates say the crates protect the pregnant pigs from attacking each other, while Iowa governor Terry Branstad claimed the crates prevent sows from inadvertently crushing piglets. “This is an issue that most people in New Jersey have no clue,” Branstad said in “Branstad: Christie’s pig crate veto a ‘good decision,’” by Jason Noble, posted in Des Moines Register, December 2, 2014. “They don’t raise hardly any pigs in New Jersey…But this is something we do have knowledge of in Iowa, …This is something we’re very concerned about and that does impact consumers as well because if these baby pigs are crushed and die that means there are fewer pigs and that impacts the price of pork.”
Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle countered that there are no baby piglets when the gestation crates are only for pigs while they are pregnant.
Christie vetoed bill
Christie told a pig farmer in Iowa that he was going to veto the New Jersey bill when it got to his desk. He vetoed a similar bill in 2013, but proponents who raised awareness of the bill this year believed that negative publicity would change Christie’s mind. Several Iowa Republicans, including Governor Branstad and U.S. Representative Steve King, as well as the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Iowa Farm Bureau, encouraged Christie to veto the bill.
Many critics are saying this is not about farming practices, animal welfare or animal cruelty, but politics. Mark Bittman, who writes on agriculture and health policy for Huffington Post, said in the article “Christie’s Pig-Crate Politics”: “For Christie, however, that’s exactly what this is about…. He can’t afford to alienate Iowa, which has a quarter of all U.S. hog slaughter capacity, as well as all-important momentum early in the presidential nomination contest. And he’ll do almost anything to get the support of that state’s governor, Terry Branstad.”
Christie claims politics created the bill
Conversely, Christie says the issue is politically motivated by the other side, saying that the crate issue is a solution in search of a problem and “It is a political movement masquerading as substantive policy,” he said, reported in “Christie Vetoes Pig Crate Bill,” by the Associated Press printed in Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) November 29, 2014. “I will rely on our in-state experts rather than the partisan politicians who sponsor this bill,” said Christie.
The National Pork Producers Council is siding with Christie. Council spokesman Dave Warner said that hog farmers know best how to protect pregnant sows. And besides, New Jersey does not raise that many pigs on farms, about 9,000, compared to other states such as Iowa which has 20 million.
Big companies phasing out crates
New Jersey and Iowa aside, many states are phasing out the use of gestation crates due to pressure from consumers for humane treatment of food animals. Nine states have outlawed the crates already. Large pork producers, food service companies and retail grocers—including Hormel, ConAgra Foods, Cargill, Sysco, Aramark, McDonald’s, Costco and Kroger—are phasing out or have pledged to soon stop buying pork from sources that use gestation crates. Canada has recently banned the use of gestation crates.
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Do you think companies should ban gestation crates?