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Would You Still Eat a Pig if You Knew it Was as Smart as Your Dog?

Would You Still Eat a Pig if You Knew it Was as Smart as Your Dog?

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.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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118 comments

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5:17AM PDT on May 27, 2014

Difficult questions for some people

2:52AM PDT on May 27, 2014

NOOOOOOOOO...
no pigs and no other animals!

12:16PM PST on Nov 6, 2013

.. and maybe also because we tend to eat animals that would be prey generally and which make efficient sources of massed-produced "meat", while we look up to predators (which tend to be smart enough) and keep the small controllable predators as pets. It gives us sense of power to tame the predators, but we also inherit them today from practical scenarios used by our ancestors, where we worked on the same team. [Why fight the tough fight when we can join and milk the weaker prey?] It's a two-way street. Cats dogs also chose us. We make compatible companions in many ways.

There are always reasons. It started in the past, likely included practical and aesthetic reasons, and our minds tap into commonalities that would exemplify ourselves and/or explain life. Etc. Etc. [add more reasons here.]

10:01PM PDT on Sep 22, 2013

I don't ever eat a living soul or beautiful animals. So ,no I would never eat a pig. Poor things.

I don't judge people that eat meat. I don't say much. Once in a while i might say something but don't push .

Syd ,you could have posted an answer without being as descriptive as you were. I know you are saying you are being honest but it seems more like you are boasting about it.

I'm not trying to be mean (It just feels like you wanted to rub it in some how) but in my opinion ,you went out of your way to post every tiny detail of what you are eating at that moment. It was honest but why to such a degree? Even saying how delicious it is.... I don't need an answer. I'm not following the thread or anything. I came here from a link from supposedly an updated article to see if I could find out if it really was an updated /new post or older.

Syd H.
11:53AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013
I have known for many years that pigs are likely to be smarter than dogs, particularly in the case of some of the dogs I have been a slave too in the past 60 odd years. But even so, as I am responding to this article, I am sitting here eating a delicious meal of free range Pork Sausages, Pork Bacon and fried eggs. There is in my honest opinion no food tastier than the meat from a Pig.

4:03AM PDT on Aug 22, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

9:34PM PDT on Aug 16, 2013

I actually think they are smarter!

9:20PM PDT on Aug 13, 2013

Dear Felicia... You can't eat eat grains, rice, beans or soy... Any kind of allergy? There must a solution, dear. And, if you can eat vegetables, then you don't have to go for meat. To say that vegetables also have life is not a good argument. We need to eat something and vegetables don't have a central nervous system! You also said you would be vegetarian if you could. I believe you can. Ask your doctor. A vegetarian one, of course.

4:18PM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

I don't care if an animal is as smart as another animal or not so smart- all beings, including plants, want to live and reproduce more of their own kind. The reality is, to do this everyone eats someone else- including smart, pretty, sweet animals and plants. *sigh* If I could be a Breatharian I would. If I could be vegetarian I would, too, but since I can't eat grains, rice, beans or soy... that leaves me little choice but to eat some animals. I aim for humanely raised and slaughtered animals and I always, always, always say thank you for the gift of their body to mine. If someone can get by on only vegetables I say more power to you- but don't think you're not part of the "food chain" and not hurting animals by doing so. Every harvest of grain, corn or soy results in the deaths of thousands, even millions of animals under the wheels and blades of the harvester, death from lack of environment, death from pollution, etc. There is no way out of the "food chain."

1:34PM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

@ Anne K, "We don't kill and eat humans with a low IQ."

Interesting point, Anne.
Perhaps we should start to do just that, beginning with the worlds Heads of State, Politicians, Religious leaders and gradually work our way down through the Bankers, Financiers, Media moguls, Bosses of Big Pharma, and so on.

11:53AM PDT on Aug 8, 2013

I have known for many years that pigs are likely to be smarter than dogs, particularly in the case of some of the dogs I have been a slave too in the past 60 odd years. But even so, as I am responding to this article, I am sitting here eating a delicious meal of free range Pork Sausages, Pork Bacon and fried eggs. There is in my honest opinion no food tastier than the meat from a Pig.

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