Putting Pigs Before Politics

The federal shutdown may be over for the time being, but Washington's partisan paralysis remains, even on issues where common ground should be easy to reach. For that reason, it can sometimes be a breath of fresh air to look at what's happening in the states where bipartisanship can be a little less difficult to come by. That's especially the case on certain important social issues, perhaps most notably when it comes to preventing animal cruelty.

In New Jersey, state lawmakers recently voted overwhelmingly to ban the inhumane confinement of breeding pigs in tiny cages. Most breeding pigs are confined day and night during their four-month pregnancy in gestation crates. These cages are barely larger than the animals' bodies, preventing them from even turning around. They're then placed into another crate to give birth, are re-impregnated, and are put back into a gestation crate. This happens pregnancy after pregnancy for their entire lives, adding up to years of virtual immobilization.

Nine states have passed laws to ban gestation crates, and New Jersey lawmakers want their state to become the tenth. That's why they voted in a major bipartisan show of support, 60-5 (Assembly) and 29-4 (Senate) to implement this animal welfare policy in New Jersey. Even more, a statewide survey conducted by Mason-Dixon showed that 91 percent of New Jersey voters support the legislation.

Despite the strong support for preventing one of the most egregious forms of animal abuse in our society, Gov. Chris Christie regrettably vetoed the bill after pressure from out-of-state pork industry interests.

When polling reveals that more than nine of 10 voters support a measure and it has the support of nearly every member of the state legislature, you know it's a non-partisan, common sense bill.

And common sense also tells us that animals shouldn't be locked in cages so small they can barely move an inch their entire lives. Renowned animal welfare scientist, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., makes this fact very clear: "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." Grandin further states, "We've got to treat animals right, and the gestation stalls have got to go."

The corporate sector is listening to their customers and this science, too. Companies like Chipotle have long prohibited pork from gestation crate confinement operations in their supply chains, and 60 other major pork buyers -- including McDonald's, Costco and Burger King -- have announced gestation crate elimination plans for their supply chains. Many traditional farm families have avoided using gestation crates for generations.

Undeterred by the setback from the governor, New Jersey's lawmakers are now seeking to override this irresponsible veto. It will require take a 2/3 majority of members in the legislature, which is a smaller margin than the original vote in favor of the people's representatives, to enact the legislation into law. The Humane Society of the United States is spearheading a campaign in the state to aid that effort.

To date, nine New Jersey newspapers have editorialized in favor of passing the bill, including The Daily Journal, The Asbury Park Press, Daily Record, The Courier News, Press of Atlantic City, Courier-Post, The Times of Trenton, Home News Tribune, and The Star-Ledger.

Time will tell if New Jersey lawmakers will stick with their original bipartisan vote to tackle this important animal welfare issue. If they do, it will show a real triumph of sound public policy rather than allowing petty politics to rule the day.

Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection at The Humane Society of the United States. Follow him at http://twitter.com/pshapiro. Learn more about this effort at HumaneSociety.org/NJ.

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