There is an animal-welfare bill on New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s desk right now, S998,which passed both the Senate and the Assembly with strong bipartisan support. The bill would ban the use in New Jersey of so-called gestation crates, the metal stalls, 2 feet wide by 7 feet long, that confine more than 80 percent of pregnant pigs in the United States.
The National Pork Producers Council opposes S998, because it opposes any legislation that might constrain animal agriculture. The group’s communications director belittled animal-welfare concerns, telling a journalist, “So our animals can’t turn around for the 2.5 years that they are in the stalls producing piglets. . . . I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around.”
Most of us are not so dismissive where cruelty to animals is at issue, which is why the bill is supported by 93 percent of New Jersey voters, including 94 percent of Democrats and 92 percent of Republicans. It’s hard to imagine a more popular piece of legislation.
Gestation crates are already illegal in nine states, including red states like Florida and Arizona — the first two states to ban the crates. And many large corporations have promised to stop the use of them in their operations, including Smithfield Foods and Burger King.
The sooner, the better, because these crates are among the worst abuses in all of animal agriculture. It’s not hard to understand the argument — it simply makes intuitive sense that forcing animals to spend almost their entire lives immobilized constitutes cruelty. But animal scientists have looked closely at the crates to detail the concerns, and they fall into two categories: mental and physical.
Pigs are smart animals — they outperform both dogs and cats on tests of behavioral and cognitive sophistication. In fact, they play rudimentary video games with more success than chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. So just as our dogs and cats would if they spent virtually their entire lives unable to even turn around, the pigs go insane from the stress.
And just as would happen to any animal if she were unable to move for months at a time, pigs’ muscles and bones deteriorate from lack of use.
The Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production heard from the pork industry and animal-welfare scientists and concluded without equivocation that gestation crates “constitute inhumane treatment” and should be eliminated. Notably, the commission was put together by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Commission members included former Kansas governor John Carlin, former United States agriculture secretary Dan Glickman, and several farmers, ranchers, and veterinarians.
Indeed, no less an authority than Dr. Temple Grandin, who designs slaughter systems for the largest beef companies in the world, has denounced gestation crates. “Gestation stalls have got to go,” she says. “Confining an animal for most of [her] life in a box in which [she] is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.” She compares being held in a crate to spending your life in an airline seat.
And it’s not just animal science that is offended by the crates — so is basic morality. In short, forcing pigs to spend their lives in such conditions violates elementary principles of decency, compassion, and mercy.
It also violates Biblical principles, which teach us that righteous people have concern for the welfare of their animals. “Animals are God’s creatures,” the Catholic Catechism teaches. “He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.”
Matthew Scully, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, has written eloquently about the need to get rid of these crates, both in his book Dominion, which opens with a denunciation of crates as violating conservative principles, and in articles for The American Conservative and National Review Online.
The bill on Governor Christie’s desk right now is a common-sense measure that merely requires that pigs in New Jersey be able to lie down when they wish and turn around comfortably.
Surely, that’s the least we as a society can provide them.
— Bruce Friedrich is director of advocacy and policy for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm-animal protection organization.