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Murphy signs law banning pig gestation cages

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(The Center Square) — Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a ban on gestation cages used to confine pregnant pigs nearly a decade after his predecessor, Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed a similar measure.

The new law requires the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to enact regulations requiring pork produced in the state to come from pigs whose mothers were raised with at least 24 square feet of space, with the ability to lie down and turn around. That effectively bans so-called “gestation crate” metal enclosures common in the nation’s pork industry.

“As the Garden State, agriculture is at the heart of New Jersey’s identity,” Murphy said in a statement. “Ensuring that we are following humane farming practices and that farm animals are treated with care, rather than kept in enclosures so small they are immobilized, is a reflection of our values.”

Animal welfare groups praised Murphy for signing the bill into law, saying it will help improve conditions for the country’s six million breeding sows, who they say spend a large portion of their pregnancies confined in metal gestation cages that prohibit their movement.

“We must move past the era of immobilizing animals for years on end as a customary animal-rearing strategy,” Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, said in a statement. “Immobilization is a form of punishment and torment, not a responsible way to raise animals.”

Passage of the bill comes after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld California’s voter-approved Proposition 12, which requires all pork sold in the state to come from pigs whose mothers were raised with at least 24 square feet of space, among other changes, following a legal challenge by the pork industry.

The nation’s $26 billion-a-year pork industry has pushed back against the state bans on gestation cages, arguing they will require expensive, industry-wide changes that will lead to higher costs nationwide for pork chops, ribs and bacon.

The industry points out other states that have banned gestation cages import a majority of the pork sold and the laws, as written, place an unfair financial burden on pork farmers in other states. They also point out that the confining cages prevent sows from accidentally lying down or stepping on piglets.

Christie, a Republican running the party’s nomination for president in 2024, vetoed New Jersey legislation banning pig gestation crates twice during his long tenure as governor, first in 2013 and later in 2014. The vetoes came even after a letter-writing campaign from New Jersey-based celebrities, including Bill Mayer and Danny DeVito.

But Democrats who pushed the measure through during the recent legislative session argue public sentiment has shifted towards more humane treatment for farm animals.

“Placing breeding pigs in gestation crates where their movements are so severely constrained before giving birth represents an uncommon cruelty we as a society should no longer accept,” Senate President Nick Scutari said in a statement. “In the end this is a question of morality, and whether New Jersey is willing to do the right thing.”

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