A national animal rights group from the Bay Area on Thursday sued the State Fair and the University of California Board of Regents over the confinement of pregnant and nursing pigs in a livestock exhibit.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed the suit in Alameda Superior Court.
"Cal Expo and the UC Regents, via the School of Veterinary Medicine, illegally expend state money and resources every year by mistreating pigs at the State Fair's Livestock Nursery Exhibit in violation of the animal cruelty laws," according to the lawsuit.
Michelle Prater, Cal Expo director of marketing, said the safety and health of the animals is monitored 24 hours a day by a veterinarian.
The complaint states that farrowing crates, stalls used at the fair to contain pregnant and nursing pigs, deprive pigs of exercise for more than three weeks and cause the animals "needless suffering" by "frustrating their strong maternal instinct to engage in nest-building behavior."
"Farrowing crates are standard practice in California in the commercial hog industry," Prater said in a written statement. "We have thousands of fairgoers come and enjoy the livestock nursery every year, and it continues to be one of the most popular exhibits at the State Fair."
The Livestock Nursery Exhibit allows visitors to watch when pigs, cows and sheep give birth and interact with their young. Students and faculty from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine answer questions at the exhibit and supervise the care of the livestock, according to the State Fair website.
The complaint recommends alternative housing systems, such as open pens, which would allow the animals to turn around, walk and build a nest. The Animal Legal Defense Fund said such methods are used at the Alameda County fair, which was formerly run by Rick Pickering, the State Fair's new CEO.
It also states that transporting pigs near the end of pregnancy, as is done for the State Fair so the live births can be witnessed, can be stressful and can cause the pigs to abort. The fund recommends livestreaming the births electronically and transporting the sows and piglets a few days after the birth.
Call The Bee's Morgan Searles, (916) 321-1102. Follow her in Twitter @morgansearles.