Pigs, Politics, and Chris Christie

“Psst. I hear Christie might spring us.” “Nah. These days he cares more about what Iowa thinks than what New Jersey thinks.”

Want to know how you will be able to tell whether Chris Christie has decided to run for President in 2016? If he vetoes a widely popular law to ban gestation crates in New Jersey.

The Daily Beast explains:

In 2013, a measure to make illegal an inhumane farming practice made its way to Christie’s desk. S.1921 would have banned gestation crates—small, metal cages which are used to contain breeding sows during industrial pork production. There was no reason to assume Christie would veto it. For one thing, the cages—so small that the animals can barely move at all or lie down—were not even thought to be used much among the 250 pig farmers in the state, meaning the ban would be more of a symbolic gesture than one that would really impact farming methods. But more than that, the bill had passed almost unanimously in both chambers of the legislature and was supported by 91 percent of voters, making it perhaps the most popular idea to be floated in the Garden State since Bruce Springsteen had been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame several years earlier.

When Christie vetoed the bill, he claimed that it was because two obscure national veterinarian groups had not endorsed it (although a coalition of 100 others had) and that the Department of Agriculture wasn’t involved enough. But many assumed that it had more to do with his dreams of the White House, for which he would need the support of voters and donors in Iowa—a pork manufacturing wonderland—to obtain.

“Why wouldn’t he [Christie] ban them, except for the fact that the first Republican presidential caucus is in Iowa?” S.1921’s sponsor, Senator Ray Lesniak, told me at the time. “He has no values. His only value is himself.” He repeated it again, slowly: “He has no valuesHe has no moral compass whatsoever.”

A year later, Lesniak is back with another bill to ban the crates—S.998…Per Christie’s complaint, the new bill defers to the Department of Agriculture, and simply asks that breeding sows be able to move in their crates—not that they should be able to roam freely through fields. “For us, there should be no reason for him to veto [the new bill], if he was being honest with his reason for vetoing it last year,” Dominguez said, with an eyebrow raised. “The one out that he has is that he said he had a concern, and we’ve addressed it. He has no reason to veto this bill.”

Well, maybe one:

Since he vetoed last year’s bill, Christie has been back to Iowa several times, including in late October.

Meanwhile, Martha Stewart, Danny DeVito, Bob Barker, Edie Falco and Bill Maher have begged Christie to sign a gestation crate ban into law. Since last year, public approval for the ban has shot up from an already astronomical 91 percent to 93 percent. But this is not just a bleeding heart issue. A crate ban makes sense pragmatically, too: the confinement creates stress for the sows, which leads to a poorer quality pork product. And a leading cause of death for breeding sows is urinary tract infections, which miraculously become a non-issue once gestation crates are out of the picture. Because of this, companies from Smithfield Foods to Burger King and McDonald’s have stopped using the crates.

But Big Pork is not interested in any of that. The Des Moines-based National Pork Producers Council has lobbied Christie not to get rid of gestation crates, calling 2013’s bill “a solution in search of a problem…and we hope Gov. Christie won’t go along with it.”

And so it goes in the lives of animals, whose rights and welfare are subsumed constantly by the ambitions and desires of everyone from politicians to bacon-lovers. Interestingly, and to its credit, the conservative National Review urges Christie to bow to morality and veto the bill:

[T]hese 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…

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.”

So: morality, bipartisanship, science, and at least a small dram of mercy on one side. And craven, bald, presidential policticking on the other.

I wonder (not really) which side Chris Christie will come down on. To be fair, I also wonder which side Hilary Clinton would come down on.

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