Evidence that pigs can respond to their names, learn complicated tricks, and interact sociably with owners has led one animal-rights group to claim would-be bacon deserves the same protection as man's best friend.
Farm Sanctuary launched the “Someone, not Something Project” earlier this year to highlight research suggesting that pigs, chickens, cows, and other farm animals are more intelligent and emotionally complex than commonly believed. It hopes that more people might view farm animals with the same empathy they have for dogs, cats, elephants, great apes, and dolphins.
“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 that then species we eat—and we know this isn’t true,” said Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, the animal protection and vegan advocacy organization coordinating the new project.
For Friedrich and head researcher Lori Marino, who are vegans, the project has two goals—to push for the humane treatment of farm animals and to boost the ranks of Americans who choose not to eat meat.
“Maybe they’ll be thinking, ‘Hmm, I didn’t know cows and pigs could recognize each other and have special friends,’” Friedrich said. “That might make them squirm a little, but that’s OK.”
But major associations representing chicken and pork producers say the campaign is pushing for a meat-free society. They also note the farmers they represent already have taken strides to minimize cruel treatment of farm animals.
“While vegans have a right to express their opinion—and we respect that right—they should not force their lifestyle on others,” said David Warner of the National Pork Producers Council.
Gwen Venable of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association said poultry provides a valuable, affordable source of protein: “We do not feel that Farm Sanctuary’s campaign is reasonable, as the campaign’s ultimate goal would be to eradicate poultry and pork from consumers’ diets.”
Janeen Salak-Johnson, a professor in the University of Illinois animal sciences department, sees the conflict between vegans and farming communities firsthand. While some students from suburban Chicago may embrace meatless diets, students from nearby rural areas are convinced local farms help feed the world. She favors a “happy medium” and contends that campaigns such as The Someone Project go too far in trying to equate “production animals” with household pets.
“We can’t let all these animals roam free—it’s not an economically sustainable system,” she said. “Yes, we have to fulfill our obligations to these animals, but is it fair for us to starve the world?”
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.