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Monday's Override Vote Seeks to Free Female Pigs From Cramped Cages

Iowa has 20 million hogs, many raised in factory conditions far removed from traditional agriculture. A 2006 report by researchers at Iowa State University found the number of animals continued to increase even as the state’s hog farms plunged from almost 60,000 in 1978 to just over 10,000 in 2002, reflecting “industrialization” of pig farming.

That is a world away from New Jersey, where about a dozen small family farms hand raise a total of roughly 600 hogs.

Since June, the Governor’s Office has declined further comment on the issue, referring questioners to his veto message. In it, the governor said, “The proper balancing of the humane treatment of gestating pigs with the interests of farmers whose livelihood depends on their ability to properly manage their livestock best rests with the State’s farming experts,” the department and board of agriculture, whose regulations allow gestation crates.

The incoming president of the National Pork Producers Council, Iowa hog farmer Howard Hill, praised Christie’s veto for providing “a great example of a governor standing up to powerful lobbying groups on behalf of small, independent farmers.”

Hill blamed the Humane Society of the United States for promoting “unreasonable legislation in states with little pork production in an attempt to push a national agenda,” noting that some legislatures have rejected similar bills.

Matt Dominguez, an organizer of the Humane Society campaign, said bills to ban or regulate the crates are pending in several states, and success in New Jersey could send a “critical signal” of changing public attitudes.

More people are realizing that “to take a highly intelligent, highly social animal and confine it for its entire life in a space too small for it to turn around in is just wrong,” Dominguez said. Opinion polls show that “even people who like bacon do not want to see animals tortured,” he said.

But Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau, said the issue “doesn’t affect New Jersey.” The state has a tiny number of breeding hogs and few gestation crates have ever been used here, he said.

“The small number of farms that raise pigs here are generally ‘finishing,’ buying piglets and raising them for market,” he said. “It’s not like North Carolina or Iowa,” where breeding facilities control swine throughout their lives.

Echoing statements from the NPPC and Christie’s veto message, Furey pointed to the state agriculture department’s humane practices regulations, which allow the crates, and its complaint process. Organizations like the American Veterinary Medicine Association have endorsed gestation crates if used properly, he noted.

“We oppose the legislation and the veto override attempt because this bill is misplaced,” he said.

Another of New Jersey’s handful of hog farmers comes down in the middle. Well-known egg producer Matt Soldano of Southtown Farms in Mahwah recently branched out into pigs. He cited a growing demand for locally sourced agricultural products, including meats, but finds the political dispute irrelevant to his business.

“Gestation crates are terrible, I won’t use them,” Soldano said. “But at the same time, I don’t think it’s a government issue at all.”

If consumers object to animal husbandry practices, they should vote with their dollars and “these companies will be forced to change,” he said.

In recent years, even some allies of the pork industry have found fault with gestation crates. A 2004 study by researchers at Texas Tech University found that fewer than 40 percent of their 296 breeding sows could be “contained within the width of the conventional stall without protruding outside the bars or being compressed against the bars of the side walls.”

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