Politics & Policy

Don’t Ban Maternity Pens

Christie should listen to farmers and veterinarians — not anti-meat activists.

Last week, animal-liberation activist Bruce Friedrich wrote at National Review Online that New Jersey governor Chris Christie should sign a bill, which he vetoed last year, that would ban individual maternity pens for housing pregnant pigs. Friedrich was a longtime vice president of PETA. He remains an activist who wants to eliminate meat, egg, and dairy farms altogether. He has a clear agenda to make farming look as bad as possible. But does he have a valid point on this particular issue? No.

The first and most important thing that everyone should know is that the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians have determined that maternity pens provide for animal welfare. They are not inhumane. In fact, they help farmers provide individual care for their animals.

Individual pens came into use in the past few decades because of the drawbacks of housing pregnant pigs in groups. These large, hormonal animals tend to fight for dominance, leading to nasty injuries to other animals and potentially threatening worker safety. Housing them individually allows for individual care and feeding, and prevents fighting.

Interestingly, some newer pens are designed to allow sows to back out and access a common area. Most don’t leave when given the choice. The animals are apparently quite content with having a private stall to eat and sleep in.

What’s really going on? The noise about maternity pens is about optics, economics, and politics.

There are no farms in New Jersey that use maternity pens, and new pork farms aren’t exactly popping up in the nation’s most population-dense state. A ban in New Jersey, however, would provide a P.R. boost to the activists’ campaign to ban them nationally. So far, activists have focused on banning these pens in places where they aren’t used — Rhode Island, for instance, or Florida, where exactly two farms use them. They would never get a ban passed in Iowa, but they hope they can take advantage of more liberal statehouses in the Northeast.

Fortunately, these legislators are seeing through the charade. Bans that were pushed in Connecticut, Vermont, New York, and Massachusetts have all been rejected. Legislators and the public are hearing what farmers and veterinarians have to say — and it’s a much more trustworthy message than what’s coming from professional activists who have never worked on a pig farm.

The animal-liberation movement has matured. Bruce Friedrich used to say things like “blowing things up and smashing windows . . . I think it’s a great way to bring about animal liberation,” or that eating meat “is not your personal decision, any more than, you know, whether somebody beats their child is their personal decision.” These quotes are not going to win over Americans, so activists are now trying to sell themselves as being concerned with pig “protection” (instead of liberation) and asking for seemingly small reforms. Friedrich even uses religious language to push his political goals and connect with conservatives — which is nothing new, since his former employer, PETA, has launched various campaigns twisting the Bible into supporting a vegetarian agenda.

But these seemingly small requests have big consequences. Banning sow maternity pens nationally would put many small farmers out of business by forcing them into costly infrastructure changes. That’s exactly what Friedrich and his associates at PETA, the Humane Society of the U.S., and other vegan groups want. For those of us who support farmers, veterinarians, and affordable bacon, that outcome shouldn’t be appetizing.

—​ Will Coggin is a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom.

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