So-called gestation crates contain the sows while they are pregnant, meaning 80% of the time. The enclosures measure 24" across (by contrast, a twin mattress is 39" and your queen bed is 60", or 2 ½ crates wide. Breeding females weigh about 300 lbs. each. They cannot move, or turn around. Ostensibly, the crating is justified as an efficiency measure: no piglets get crushed if Mama can't move, at all. That the sows suffer constantly, and often go mad, is an unfortunate side-effect of their bad decision to have been born pigs.
New Jersey is not a big pork-producing state, obviously. Iowa, where the swine census runs into the low millions, is number one. Jersey's ag industry focuses on truck farming crops, like tomatoes. Yet, in each of the past two annual sessions, their legislature has overwhelming passed bills to outlaw the use of gestation crates. The votes this session were 29-4 in the Senate, and 60-5 in the Assembly (Dems hold majorities in both Houses, 24/16 Senators and 48/32 Assembly folk). A recent poll revealed that 93% of the state's residents favored the bill, and two teenage sisters presented the statehouse with a petition from 125,000 New Jerseyans demanding implementation.
All that remained was for Governor Chris Christie to actually sign the bill. And here's where the story takes a remarkable turn.
Iowa, you see, is not only the nation's foremost pork producer ? it is also the site of the first Caucuses of our quadrennial Presidential sweepstakes. The Iowa Pork Producers' Association is an influential business lobby, which has an opinion on crate bans. It's not a positive one. Governor Christie promised them earlier this year that he would veto the NJ crate bill. Earlier this month, he made good on his pledge. The Jersey 9,000 would remain in-place ? very firmly and cruelly in-place.
The Governor cited "partisan politicians" and the opinion of his Ag Commissioner on last year's bill as his justifications. The bill's vote record obviously gives the lie to the former argument. As to the latter, it might be noted that the Commish objected to being left out of the 2013 crate bill, whereas this term's edition directed him to develop implementing rules. The bill's sponsor has promised a spirited veto override campaign.
What conclusion may we draw from this incident? That despite the recent Bridgeghazigate scandal, as well as the near-unanimous will of his people, Chris Christie will veto a bill that interferes with his Presidential ambitions. In case there was any doubt: he's a-runnin', folks.
So where, might you ask, do WE stand on this issue, in our thoroughly enlightened or over-nannied great state of California? Obviously, we're number one in agriculture generally, and second to only Texas in livestock production. Most of that volume is beef and broilers, however; pig farms are few, and far between amidst our ranges, barns and coops.
Big Ag is one of the most potent lobbies in Sacramento, represented by numerous trade associations. Even the wine-grapes and table-grapes producers have their own separate trade groups. And so it is that the CA legislature refused to consider similar reform legislation for more than twenty-years prior to 2008. (Your humble scribe had personal experience with that juggernaut ? having drafted and gotten the CA Bar to recommend unrelated anti-cruelty legislation in 2005, we were unable to get Anyone to even formally sponsor it in Sacramento.)
Fortunately, we have the referendum system as a safety valve, and in 2008 Prop 2 was put on the ballot. That was grace of the Humane Society of the United States and its own tireless lobbyist, Jennifer Fearing. Prop 2 applied to gestation crates, as well similar containers imposed over veal calves, and battery cages that confined laying hens to an area smaller than letter paper. It passed, by a 2-1 popular vote margin. Eight other states have now enacted similar laws, but they tend to be places, like New Jersey, where the affected industry is a minor public policy player.
What does all this mean for Governor Christie? He's made good on his promise to the Iowa porkers, regardless of the veto override outcome. That said however, candidate Romney had his family dog-on-the-roof-rack problem, and animal welfare partisans can be a noisy, if poorly funded, constituency. It is almost too easy to anticipate the placards showing NJ's chief-of-state chewing and peering hopelessly out from behind those crating bars. If only Bruce Springsteen had come out in favor of the ban!