NJ celebrities want ban on crates that confine farm animals. Christie vetoed it twice.

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Seven years after similar efforts hit a wall under former Gov. Chris Christie, a group of 16 New Jersey celebrities are calling on state leaders to ban the farm practice of using gestation crates to confine pregnant pigs and veal crates to confine calves.

The celebrities — including Steven Van Zandt, Debbie Harry, Chelsea Handler, and Ethan Hawke — joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund in penning the open letter urging the state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy to enact a new bill that would criminalize the use of such crates in New Jersey, calling the practice “indefensible.”

“Gestation crates and veal crates are inherently cruel,” the celebrities wrote in the letter, according to a copy obtained by NJ Advance Media. “Both include severely restricting the animal’s movement, to the point of virtual immobilization, which leads to highly stressful conditions that induces physical and psychological illness — and great suffering.”

The celebrities are musician and actor Steven Van Zandt (a Middletown native), actress Maureen Van Zandt, actor Paul Wesley (of Marlboro), comedian Michael Ian Black (of Hillsborough), actress Taissa Farmiga (of Whitehouse Station), television host Daisy Fuentes (of Harrison), comedian Chelsea Handler (of Livingston), musician Debbie Harry (of Hawthorne), actor Ethan Hawke (of West Windsor), YouTube Grace Helbig (of Woodbury), television personality Alison Haislip (of Tewksbury), comedian Myq Kaplan (of Livingston), comedian Bill Maher (of River Vale), actress Cristin Milioti (of Cherry Hill), actress Christina Ricci (of Montclair), and musician Karen O (of Englewood).

Gestation crates are used to confine pigs and calves during pregnancy. Proponents say the crates prevent the animals from fighting each other. Opponents say they prevent the animals from turning around and fully extending their limbs.

“Coupled with increasing demand by consumers for increased compassion and transparency in how farmed animals are raised, now is the time for New Jersey to ban the crates,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said.

New Jersey’s bill (S3401), sponsored by Democrats, would make their use a crime and establish monetary fines. Ten other states, as well as Canada and the European Union, have banned gestation crates.

Christie, a Republican, vetoed measures banning pig gestation crates twice during his tenure as governor, first in 2013 and then in 2014.

Critics accused the then-governor of rejecting the bill because he was planning to run for president and didn’t want to upset pork producers in the key state of Iowa, where nearly one-third of the nation’s hogs are raised.

But it was also uncertain as to how much of an effect the measure would have had in New Jersey. The state is home to fewer than 10,000 pigs, and it’s unclear if any are kept in crates when pregnant.

Christie noted both the state Board of Agriculture and state Department fo Agriculture adopted humane standards in 1995 that cover the issue. He also accused sponsors of using the bill as a “political cudgel” against him.

“I will rely on our in-state experts rather than the partisan politicians who sponsor this bill,” Christie said at the time.

Both houses of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature would need to pass the new bill before Murphy, a Democrat, could decide whether to sign or veto it.

Former state Sen. Raymond Lesniak recently wrote an op-ed saying he had hope the measure would succeed this time now that Murphy is in charge.

“Help is on the way for the suffering pigs,” Lesniak, a Union County Democrat, wrote.

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Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com.

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