Julia the pig was expected to go into labor the following week, so the farm manager wanted to move her from the crate where she spent her pregnancy to the slightly larger crate where she would give birth. Julia couldn’t walk, and so the farm manager dragged an electric shock prod up and down her back, trying to force her to stand.
A worker took out his phone and recorded Julia’s screams of pain and terror, and then he reported the manager to the local police. The police called the local animal shelter, and the shelter called Farm Sanctuary, where I work as policy director. The next morning, we showed up at the farm with the police, and we rescued Julia.
That night, Julia went into labor in our hospital. The next few weeks were touch and go for some of Julia’s babies, but happily, all survived and are now thriving.
Seeing All Animals as Individuals
The universally positive reaction to Julia’s story, and to all the stories of our animals saved from peril, is why I was not surprised by the headline from a recent Food Marketing Institute (FMI) report: “As shopper values evolve, more shoppers are prioritizing … animal welfare.” According to FMI, “shoppers prioritize animal welfare second only to employment practices” and “want food retailers to prioritize animal welfare over environmentally sustainable practices.”
For many, that concern leads to a complete change in diet. We simply cannot justify consuming animals like Julia. Others switch from industrial meat to meat from animals who, we are assured, were humanely raised and killed.
For those of us who believe in animal rights, the idea of eating “humane meat” is hard to understand. Of course, we are glad that most Americans care about farm animal welfare. But it seems to us that people who oppose cruelty to animals should make the more obvious choice — not to eat them.
A Pig is a Dog is a Chimp…
The science is clear: Farm animals feel pain in the same way, and to the same degree, as our pets. And they are individuals with unique personalities. Indeed, scientists who study them have found that farm animals have well-developed and complex patterns of behavior, cognition, and emotion.
Just last week, the peer-reviewed International Journal of Comparative Psychology reported that pigs compare favorably in cognitive and behavioral sophistication to dogs and chimpanzees. As just one interesting example, pigs like Julia have been taught to play rudimentary video games with greater success than chimpanzees, our closest living relatives.
But it’s not just pigs. Chickens have the capacity to learn complicated procedures, plan for the future, and delay gratification, something that, so far, dogs in scientific tests have not been able to do. As primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall explains, “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.”
Most readers would be revolted by the idea of eating Fido or Fluffy or any other dog or cat. We think of them as members of our family — and so we should. But the fact that we don’t personally know any chickens or pigs is not a good reason for treating them differently.
At its core, eating meat involves eating animals like Julia, unique individuals who are no different in any meaningful way from our beloved animal family members.
For those of us who believe in compassion for animals, eating certain animals but not others just can’t hold up. The better choice is showing compassion for Julia, her babies, and all animals — by leaving them off our plates entirely.