Late on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving – with the American public focused on family and football during a long holiday weekend and news organizations nationwide at low tide in terms of staffing – Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey chose to announce that he was vetoing a bill banning gestation crates, as a way of burying the story. Gestation crates are confining metal cages that pack in breeding pigs so tightly that they can’t even turn around. They are banned in nine other states and on their way out of the supply chains of more than 60 of the biggest names in American food retail, including McDonald’s, Costco, and Kroger.
Under the leadership of state Senator Raymond Lesniak, and with the backing of The HSUS and local animal welfare groups, the New Jersey legislature had passed the bill to ban gestation crates with overwhelming majorities in both chambers. Our campaigners and volunteers then ran a tremendous grassroots campaign, activating thousands of Christie’s constituents to call into his office in support of the bill. New Jersey native Jon Stewart even devoted a segment of The Daily Show to the issue, ridiculing Christie for his talk of putting the people of New Jersey first even as he showed himself to be pandering to industrial pork producers in Iowa, which is where the 2016 presidential caucuses are staged.
Bizarrely, Christie’s veto message – his second on this issue in two years — assailed the bill as a “political movement” driven by “misguided partisans.” But opposing animal cruelty is not a partisan issue, and this measure passed with strong majorities of Democrats and Republicans in both the Assembly and Senate. In fact, the Senate bill passed 32 to 1 – the very opposite of a partisan vote. The New Jersey-based twin sisters who launched a Change.org petition urging Christie to sign the bill were themselves young Republicans. Polling showed that there were no partisan divides on the issue among the electorate – 9 of 10 voters favored the ban. Here’s an issue of basic animal mistreatment where just about everybody in New Jersey saw things the same way: animals built to move should be allowed to move.
Christie also called the bill “a solution in search of a problem,” but I see it differently. Gestation crates are a problem in search of an excuse, and Christie found that excuse in the talking points from Iowa politicians and the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council. Christie’s message mimicked the slogans of that trade association and the politicians aligned with Big Ag.
Preventing cruelty to animals is as legitimate a goal as stopping it where it already exists. And if we let gestation crates move to New Jersey, you can be sure that the pork industry would howl that banning them would kill jobs, as they’ve claimed elsewhere. It’s not that the industry wants to have it both ways – they want a ban on gestation crates neither way.
Of course, if Christie was serious about stamping out the problem where it exists, he’d call his friend, Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, and tell him to end the practice in that state, where a million sows are still confined in gestation crates. Branstad apparently had no qualms about telling Christie what to do, mistakenly claiming that gestation crates are needed to protect piglets (the crates are only used to confine pregnant pigs before their piglets are born). I would be happy to take Branstad to a farm and show him the difference between gestation crates and farrowing crates, which are not covered by the bill.
The fact is, Branstad and Christie – and their friend Congressman Steve King – have aligned themselves with an increasingly fringe element of animal agriculture that is determined to defend extreme confinement practices. In addition to the food retailers who are shunning the crates, so, too, are major pig producers such as Smithfield, Cargill, and Hatfield. The European Union bans the crates and Canada, Australia, India, and, most recently, Brazil have pledged to phase them out. It’s ironic that one of the most animal-friendly states in the nation is the place where an anti-crate bill is vetoed, on the recommendation of a governor from a far-off state. It just so happens that the Iowa governor’s endorsement is coveted by the Republican presidential candidates who troll for votes in Iowa’s 99 counties, and I’d be willing to bet that had a great deal to do with Christie’s action.
Despite the Friday-night veto, we’re committed to getting the job done on crates, in New Jersey and everywhere else. We’ll continue our work with food companies and pork producers and lawmakers and other citizens to phase out gestation crates and give breeding pigs more space. We’ll work with Senator Lesniak to eventually pass this legislation and serve animals and the people of New Jersey. Christie’s done neither with his cynical action.