Pigs are very much like dogs in all the ways that count: they are intelligent, social beings, with very strong bonds to their young, to their friends, and even, when permitted, to us. So why are they treated so very differently?
In the last few years there has been a revolution when it comes to acknowledging that animals have feelings. In fact, the Lisbon Treaty, in force from 2009, issued a formal declaration stating that animals can feel things much as we do, and that this has serious implications for the way we treat them. These rules reflect the famous ‘five freedoms, which include’:
1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress
If we took the third freedom seriously, wouldn’t that mean we can’t raise animals for their meat? Normal behaviour for any animal is to avoid pain, especially the pain of being killed and eaten.
It is widely acknowledged that pigs are highly sociable, and want to be with other pigs.
Pigs are very much like dogs in all the ways that count: they are intelligent, social beings, with very strong bonds to their young, to their friends, and even, when permitted, to us. Yet nobody would ever think it was right to put a female dog in a small cage where she is unable to turn over, and keep her there for months or even years, forcing her to give birth then taking away her babies.
This intelligence and curiosity of pigs was illustrated to me when I was visiting Animal Place in northern California. I took a walk into the hills behind the Sanctuary with Kim Sturla, the founder. After a few minutes, I had the odd sensation that I was being followed. I turned around, and there were the six resident pigs, all walking behind me in a straight line.
I never knew that pigs enjoyed walking with humans. “They do,” said Kim, “when they know you like them and mean them no harm. They like being close to their friends, even human friends.” When I looked at them, they wagged their tails just like a dog, letting me know they were happy to walk with me, and happy to see me. Kim told me that they like to sleep at the foot of her bed and if she allowed it, they would get right into bed, just like a dog.
In my dear friend, Voiceless Co-founder Brian Sherman’s new book, The Lives of Brian, he describes the emotional impact a piglet who was on her way to slaughter had on him. “In 2013 I visit a typical factory farm. A tiny piglet clambers towards me, slipping and sliding over the backs of his mates in his crammed enclosure. By the looks of him, he must be just a few weeks of age, new to this life. He has the joie de vivre of the very young. Arriving at the barrier that separates us, he turns up his face towards me, lifts himself on his haunches and places his front feet on a rail, snuffling my hand and reaching down to sniff my feet and legs through the steel bars. His snout twitches at my unfamiliar smell and his small body vibrates with excitement: he has a read on this interloper. The inquisitive little fellow is ready to talk: ‘What’s up, mate?’ he asks me with his eyes. I crouch and scratch him under the chin. He squeezes his eyes shut, stretches his neck and cocks his head to one side in delight. But the news is not good. “I’m sorry, mate. There’s nothing up.” I don’t have the heart to tell him the full truth.”
The full truth is unbearable for the piglet, just as it should be for us. For humans to take the implications of the Lisbon Treaty seriously, the only logical outcome is to stop eating these sociable, emotional, intelligent beings. While this applies to all animals, it applies especially to pigs.
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is the author of some 29 books, twelve of them about the inner lives of animals. His book When Elephants Weep was a New York Times bestseller, and has been translated into some 25 languages and has sold over a million copies world-wide.
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