2016 looms as Christie to make pig decision

Story highlights

  • Chris Christie is facing pressure from Iowa on a controversial bill involving pigs
  • The bill would ban pig gestation crates, a practice deemed cruel by animal rights activists
  • The Iowa governor is urging Christie to veto the legislation
Gov. Chris Christie has a big decision to make come December: Anger the governor of Iowa, who holds significant power in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary contest, or anger basically everyone else.
The New Jersey governor, who's seriously mulling a bid for president, will have to decide whether to veto a bill that would ban the use of pig gestation crates, small metal containers that confine breeding sows for essentially their whole adult lives.
Critics consider the crates a form of animal cruelty -- the pigs aren't able to turn around in the limited space -- while advocates say they prevent sows from accidentally lying down or stepping on piglets.
Despite having strong, bipartisan support in the state legislature, Christie vetoed a version of the bill in 2013. He's now facing mounting pressure from activists and celebrities, including Bill Maher, Danny DeVito, Martha Stewart and Edie Falco.
The conservative news outlet National Review published a column by Bruce Friedrich, director of advocacy and policy for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm-animal protection organization, outlining a conservative case for Christie to ban the practice.
But for Christie, the problem comes down to politics. While New Jersey's pork industry isn't very big and the ban would largely be symbolic, the pork industry is huge in Iowa. (There were 9,000 pigs in New Jersey last year, compared to 20.5 million in Iowa, according to the USDA.)
Gov. Terry Branstad, who recently won re-election in the Hawkeye State, told the Associated Press that he urged Christie to veto the bill last year.
"I called him to tell him how bad I thought it would be and how the people that are involved in pork production, that really understand this, feel this would be very bad," Branstad said, reiterating the argument that the crates protect baby pigs from much larger adult pigs.
Branstad said they discussed the most recent version of the bill when Christie was in Iowa last month for a fundraiser for Iowa Republicans.
It's unclear what Christie will do with the bill. Last year, in his veto message, Christie said the decision should be made by the state's Department of Agriculture.
"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 State Board and the Department," he said.
Confronted about it at a town hall earlier this year, Christie said he felt that farmers had a better argument than animal rights activists.
"If a bill comes back, I will certainly consider any additional evidence that people want to put in front of me," he said.