A Common-Sense Proposal To Outlaw Gestation Crates

It’s rare when groups often at odds with one another come together to support the same policy. But that is the case with A1970/S1298, a commonsense proposal to end the inhumane confinement of mother pigs and calves raised for veal in New Jersey. Nearly identical bills to outlaw gestation crates have passed with overwhelming bipartisan legislative support in prior years, and now the New Jersey Farm Bureau is in support of this most recent piece of legislation to update our state’s regulations in the interests of public health, food safety, and animal protection. That’s something to celebrate, and it something that should inspire the legislative leadership in New Jersey to finally move the bill before summer recess.

Many mother pigs in the industrial pork industry are confined in cages (“gestation crates”) so small that they can’t even turn around. They’re forced to eat, sleep and defecate in the same meager amount of space. Calves used in the veal industry are similarly immobilized in wooden boxes, barely larger than their bodies (“veal crates”).

These methods and the conditions they impose have been shown to increase the spread of diseases, which then can sicken people. With the passage of this legislation, both the animal misery and the public health risks of the status quo can be properly addressed, something which is long overdue in our state.

Other food and public health professionals are also speaking out providing the benefit of a strong public health consensus around the issues involved here. The American Public Health Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America  and the Center for Food Safety have stated that: “Intensive confinement prevents sows from moving freely and performing almost all natural behaviors, inducing high levels of stress. That stress triggers a physiological response that severely suppresses the sows’ immune function and that of their piglets, making the sows and their piglets more susceptible to disease.”

These diseases can spread to humans, the organizations contend, since pigs are “ideal mixing vessels for various strains of influenza virus, including human influenza. Intensive confinement increases the chances that a strain of influenza carried by pigs will jump to humans.” This “jumping” could potentially cause a future pandemic; the 2009 swine flu killed up to 575,000 people worldwide during just the first year it circulated.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need for reform. A landmark United Nations report on pandemic risks noted that the extreme confinement of farm animals is one of the top drivers of emergent zoonotic disease.

The risks and cruelty associated with extreme confinement have led multiple states to outlaw it. Gestation crates have been banned by ten states, and nine states have made veal crates illegal. Polling confirms that 93 percent of New Jersey voters support a ban on the extreme confinement of mother pigs.

Passing A.1970/S.1298 is good for business, too. Some of our largest corporations are also moving to end the use of gestation crates in their supply chains. Hormel Foods, maker of SPAM, has reduced its use of gestation crates. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Aramark, Conagra, Compass Group, Sonic, Kroger, and Safeway, along with New Jersey-based Campbell’s Soup, are among the companies moving away from the use of crates in their supply chains. A1970/S1298 codifies this trajectory and creates certainty for producers.

Consensus amongst voters and interest groups such as humane advocacy organizations and the New Jersey Farm Bureau is all too rare these days. But on these particular cruelties and the public health risks they engender, we have it, and our legislature should act. New Jersey should follow the lead of other states, the country’s biggest companies and the will of its concerned citizens. We collectively implore Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to advance A.1970 in the Assembly and we thank Senate President Nick Scutari for his sponsorship of S.1298 and ask that he post the bill for a full Senate vote now. We’ll all be better off when this measure becomes law.

Elissa Frank is the New Jersey state director at the Humane Society of the United States.

Brian R. Hackett is a Legislative Affairs Manager at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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2 responses to “A Common-Sense Proposal To Outlaw Gestation Crates”

  1. Isn’t this the same moot point that came up when Christie tried to run for president? They wanted to make him take a stance that would be unpopular in Iowa and hurt him in the caucus there. Then it turned out that a statistically insignificant amount of hogs are actually raised for meat production in NJ, so it was irrelevant other than that national context. I have no issue with the bill whatsoever, it seems to be the right thing to do, but it’s always nice to have some transparency in the reason behind things and the actual impact they will have, when considering if it should be a priority over other legislative matters.

  2. It matters to the individual female pigs suffering right now. I agree, it is the right thing to do. So let’s do it. We don’t often get the chance to do something good with bipartisan support.

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