What's the difference between a dog and a pig living today in the U.S.? The former is generally viewed as a companion animal, protected from cruelty, and seldom slaughtered for consumption; the latter, a farm animal, rarely protected, and raised to die in the most hellish conditions imaginable.
If it holds that dogs deserve to be treated humanely, why not pigs? The similarities between the two outweigh most of the differences.
Marc Berkoff of the Huffington Post recently published an article titled, "Babe, Lettuce, Tomato: You Want A What?" in which he discusses the treatment of pigs and their similarities with dogs. He writes:
"Pigs are very intelligent, highly social, and deeply emotional animals. They display many different personalities. There's even scientific research that shows that pigs can be optimists or pessimists depending on whether they live in enriched environments or places where there's continuous stress and suffering. Pigs are sentient beings who are capable of suffering incredible pain. They not only suffer their own pain, they also see, smell, and hear the pain of others. We grossly underestimate animal suffering and many argue that their pain is worse than ours in that they don't know when it's going to end, it's interminable, and they can't rationalize it. All they know is what they're feeling at the moment and it's endless psychological and physical abuse."
Indeed, pigs are creatures with intellectual capacities easily matching that of a dog. Just a few years ago, the New York Times published a story about pig cognition studies which had taken place at Bristol University. Researchers found that pigs "are among the quickest of animals to learn a new routine, and pigs can do a circus’s worth of tricks: jump hoops, bow and stand, spin and make word-like sounds on command, roll out rugs, herd sheep, close and open cages, play videogames with joysticks, and more."
Mentioned also in the New York Times article is an experiment by researchers at the University of Cambridge which tested the ability of pigs to use a mirror for finding food:
"They began by exposing seven 4-to-8-week-old pigs to five-hour stints with a mirror and recording their reactions. The pigs were fascinated, pointing their snouts toward the mirror, hesitating, vocalizing, edging closer, walking up and nuzzling the surface, looking at their image from different angles, looking behind the mirror. When the mirror was placed in their pen a day later, the glass-savvy pigs greeted it with a big ho-hum.
Next, the researchers put the mirror in the enclosure, along with a bowl of food that could not be directly seen but whose image was reflected in the mirror. They then compared the responses of the mirror-experienced pigs with a group of mirror-naïve pigs. On spotting the virtual food in the mirror, the experienced pigs turned away and within an average of 23 seconds had found the food. But the naïve pigs took the reflection for reality and sought in vain to find the bowl by rooting around behind the mirror."
Physiologically, pigs are similar to humans in many ways: we metabolize drugs in the same fashion, have similar teeth structures, and similar hearts. In fact, their heart so closely resembles a human heart that scientists are working on methods for pig-human heart transplants.
One study at the Agricultural Research Institute (UK) found that, like humans, pigs have varying personalities:
"Some pigs, often the meek and physically weaker animals, decide to opt for as little confrontation as possible," writes the BBC in their coverage. "Rather than pushing and shoving to get their snout into the feeder, they will wait until the others have fed. Some will even wait until after dark to feed, with the prospect of a quiet stress-free meal being worth enduring hunger pangs."
They also found 'play' to be as important for social and cognitive development in pigs as it is in humans. And, unsurprisingly, they learned that piglets raised in comfortable environments grow up to be far less aggressive than those from impoverished backgrounds. Unfortunately, the majority of pigs in the U.S. today are not living happy lives.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) conducted an undercover investigation of a Smithfield Foods (the largest pork producer in the world) factory farm last year (2010) and found sows to be "frustrated" by "extreme confinement." The report (PDF) continues: "[...] sows engaged in "stereotypic" behaviors, which indicate poor welfare, like bar biting and head swaying. Some sows had bitten their bars so incessantly that blood from their mouths coated the fronts of their crates. Sows suffered from open pressure sores and other ulcers and wounds that developed from their unmitigated confinement and their inability to change positions in the crate. Abscesses sometimes formed from simple scratches due to ever-present bacteria."
Smithfield has claimed it will phase out the use of "gestation crates" by 2017, a term used to describe the tiny metal box where sows spend their lives. Still, these crates are "standard industry practice" on pig farms across the country. Just this past June, Mercy for Animals uncovered abuse at Iowa Select Farms, the largest farm in the state. The investigation found not only gestation crates in use, but piglets being carelessly thrown around, many of which were laying on the ground with untreated, open sores; one worker described the piglets as "bouncy."
In a separate undercover investigation back in 2008, abuse was found on a Hormel pig farm which uncovered workers beating sows with metal rods, effectively giving many of them painful lacerations.
Yet, despite all of this, Bloomberg reported this past September that the U.S. hog-breeding herd population was 0.6 bigger than 2010's population, exceeding 60 million. Try to imagine the national uproar if it were to be discovered that somewhere in the United States, 60 million dogs were being injected with antibiotics, crammed into closed spaces, and butchered needlessly by a giant corporation on a daily basis.
According to the Worldwatch Institute's 2006 "State of the World" report: "Factory farming is now the fastest growing means of animal production in the world. Industrial systems today generate 74 percent of the world's poultry products, 50 percent of all pork, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs."
Like dogs, pigs are sentient creatures entirely capable of suffering, experiencing pain, and enjoying pleasure. They develop complex relationships, have unique personalities, and some pigs, also like dogs, have even called for help when their owner was in need of assistance.
Is it unreasonable to suggest these animals deserve better treatment? Does it not seem slightly hypocritical to care so much for one animal, while totally disregarding concern for another?
As animal welfare campaigner Rick Dove was once quoted as saying:
"It's an idiotic double standard: you can't kick a dog, but you can lock a pig up in a small crate and take her piglets away before she can nurse them properly, as any mother is programmed to do. This is man's insane inhumanity at its worst."
Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/the_farnsworths