The question of why we love some animals while we eat and wear others isn’t new, but it’s always worth raising. A new campaign called The Someone Project is now asking this question in hopes of raising awareness about the intelligence and emotional lives of farm animals.
Millions of us share our homes with companion animals who are cherished as members of the family. We recognize their preferences, we watch them experience a range of emotions from excitement and joy to fear and pain, we form strong bonds with them as individuals and grieve when they pass.
Unfortunately, when it comes to species we collectively refer to as “livestock,” some remain unaware, or just choose to ignore, the fact that they are not so dissimilar to those we hold so dear.
“When you ask people why they eat chickens but not cats, the only thing they can come up with is that they sense cats and dogs are more cognitively sophisticated then species we eat ― and we know this isn’t true,” Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, the organization coordinating the project, told the AP.
“What it boils down to is people don’t know farm animals the way they know dogs or cats,” he added. “We’re a nation of animal lovers, and yet the animals we encounter most frequently are the animals we pay people to kill so we can eat them.”
The goals for Friedrich and lead scientist for the project, Lori Marino, a lecturer in psychology at Emory University, are to grow public support for the humane treatment of farm animals and to increase the number of people who stop eating meat by examining our existing knowledge about them and expanding areas of scientific research. Friedrich notes that scientific studies in emotion and cognition have led to increased protections for other species, such as chimpanzees and elephants, but farm animals are rarely included in these types of studies.
“This project is not a way to strong-arm people into going vegan overnight but giving them a fresh perspective and maybe making them a little uncomfortable,” said Marino.
“Maybe they’ll be thinking, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know cows and pigs could recognize each other and have special friends,’” she added. “That might make them squirm a little, but that’s OK.”
When it comes to which species is the smartest, or most emotional, it doesn’t really matter. As Marino states, the “point isn’t to rank them, but to re-educate people about who they are.”† Who they are being sentient creatures with their own interests and emotional lives. There’s no shortage of evidence to suggest that pigs are incredibly intelligent animals. As the project’s website notes, they know their names, can learn to play video games as fast as chimpanzees and are socially advanced, with cognitive abilities that can potentially surpass a three-year-old humans.
Still, there’s nothing to suggest that pigs, or other species, suffer less than a dog or cat would during their lives on factory farms or during slaughter. Yet their continued exploitation has been accepted as a cultural norm, often met with responses that sound something along the lines of ‘That’s just the way it is’ or ‘Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.’
Big Ag Takes Note
Needless to say industry groups aren’t thrilled with a campaign that could get people to question the sentience of farm animals, or give them identities.
“While animals raised for food do have a certain degree of intelligence, Farm Sanctuary is seeking to humanize them to advance its vegan agenda ― an end to meat consumption,” said David Warner of the National Pork Producers Council. “While vegans have a right to express their opinion ― and we respect that right ― they should not force their lifestyle on others.”
The animals we eat exist for the most part without ever being seen, while the industry continues to go to ridiculous lengths to make sure it stays that way, likely because many of the things done to them would be criminal if done to companion animals. However, it seems the harder they try to hide what happens to them, the more questions it raises about what’s being done behind closed doors and, more importantly, who it’s being done to. Big Ag doesn’t want sentimentality anywhere near animals who are routinely killed or disposed of simply because they’re no longer productive or have no monetary value.
As for “humanizing” them, are we really just projecting our own emotions onto them? We may be identifying their actions in a way we can understand them, but there’s no shortage of evidence to show that we don’t need to give them emotions, they already have their own.
Cows form strong bonds with each other and get excited when they solve problems; chickens can outperform dogs on cognitive tests and make conscious decisions; sheep will remember your face; and goats have been shown to experience the same range of emotions we do.
Or as Farm Sanctuary describes their daily lives, “Goats are merry pranksters, chickens and turkeys are inquisitive and always exploring, pigs are the brains of the operation, and cattle are the farmís deeply social and most contemplative residents.”
“We want more people to understand who farm animals are, and a part of that process is presenting the science that proves their individuality, so that people see them as animals who are worthy of respect ― as someone, not something,” said Friedrich.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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