In a Pig’s 'I'owa

If this season of our discontent was any less hectic, bereft of tales sounding warnings of diseases ravaging the globe, foreign antagonists lopping off the heads of relief workers, or men with questionable sartorial choices landing spacecraft on comets, we might have more time for what should be one of the defining stories of American politics.  The tale takes place in New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie has found himself caught up in a pig problem.

As with so many of the absurdities which characterize election season, this crisis is a full-blown dust devil, summoned out of essentially nothing by the media, but speaking to an actual issue beneath all the bluster. The legislature of the Garden State has now, for the second time in as many years, passed a law which seeks to ban the use of gestational crates by pig farmers.  The cages are small, allowing a pregnant sow no room to roam, turn around, or really do anything other than stand or lie down over the course of her pregnancy.

To clear up my personal take on the question, these crates are cruel. I don’t come to the subject from a background as a bystander. Growing up, all of my aunts and uncles were farmers, and one of them raised pigs. I spent portions of a few summers helping out with the chores there and came to know the pigs on a first hand basis.  It’s a tough business for the farmer and, some might argue, an even less attractive proposition for the pigs.

I’m no vegan, nor any other sort of Gaia-worshiping acolyte who denies the right of man to feed himself by way of animal husbandry. But by the same token, I don’t approve of farmers treating their stock with any unnecessary cruelty. The animals should have as calm and pleasant a life as possible until they head for our dinner plates and any suffering should be reduced as much as is possible.  These crates are unreasonably small, so I support regulations which allow the sows a bit more room to move about.

None of that, however, plays overly much into the discussion at hand. The previously noted legislation has been vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. His reasons are rather obvious, and it has nothing to do with any sort of porcine induced-childhood trauma or a deep, abiding hatred of unclean animals sporting cloven hooves.  Making the story even more strange is the fact that there are only a handful of pig farmers in New Jersey and they don’t tend to use the gestational crates in the first place. In this sense, the governor was mostly correct when he described the legislation as “a solution in search of a problem.”

But the crates are used elsewhere  and could ---  in theory  -- catch on in New Jersey. There was no reason to prevent such a ban unless it was a baldly political one. The cheers erupting in Iowa over the governor’s decision are all we need see in seeking  an explanation for the decision.  But was a bacon-flavored tempest in a teapot truly worth the political capital that Christie is dumping into this issue? The debate isn’t fading, and his own legislature is looking to gain as much mileage off of it as possible, working well into the holiday season to attempt an override of his veto.