If Pigs were Pets

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It’s St Valentine’s Day today and if you believe the media, it’s also the perfect excuse to treat another special companion in your life: your dog or your cat. Many magazines and papers have promoted Valentine’s gift ideas for pampered pooches and other furry friends and it may not surprise you to learn that nearly half of pet owners (47%) will buy their pet a present on 14th February.

Empathy can be a powerful thing. Anyone who has a pet dog or cat gains fresh insight into their inner lives every day. Some scientists have traditionally frowned at such empathy, describing it as ‘anthropomorphism’ – prescribing human characteristics to animals – and getting in the way of objectivity. But the unconditional love millions of dog and cat owners feel for their pets, cannot be underestimated. Recent research studies have identified that 14% of people in a relationship admit to loving their pet more than their partner.

But how many of those same animal lovers pause to think of the life of the sentient being behind their bacon sandwich, sausage, steak or burger? Why this disconnect with the life of the sentient animals who provide our food? How can we react strongly to cruelty to our companion animals, yet seemingly turn a blind eye to the intolerable suffering of farm animals?

In days gone by, the butcher on the high street would have hung carcasses outside his shop. Today, many millions of pounds are spent on designing engaging packaging suggestive of happy farm animals in buttercup fields. Labelling terms are used to market the products under terms like ‘farm fresh’ and ‘country fresh’.

The sad truth is that many of the products sold are fresh from factory farms, where animals are denied a life worth living. Powerful vested interests would prefer we suppress our empathy too for fear we would stop buying meat, milk and eggs if we knew the real facts behind the labels.

Is it a genuine disconnect that has developed over time or a lack of information? Scientists have proved beyond doubt that pigs are every bit as intelligent as dogs, yet the life of a pig on an industrial farm is appalling. Just imagine how dog lovers would react if Labradors or French Bulldogs, our current most favoured dog breeds, were treated in the same way as a factory farmed pig. Mothering sows giving birth in farrowing crates so small they can’t even turn around for weeks at a time. Piglets’ teeth are often clipped and their tails cut off without anaesthetic to stop them from tail biting in the barren conditions.

Intensively reared sows in tiny stalls

If pigs were our pets, the animal loving nation of the UK would take to the streets to demand urgent, definitive action and, of course, the government would listen.

2019 is the Chinese Year of the Pig, and this year an award-winning documentary by Eline Helena Schellekens, ‘M6NTHS’, has been made to reveal the suffering that these animals endure by following the life of piglets on factory farms. The film has already won a Panda Award – the most prestigious award for wildlife films.

Of course, films like ‘M6NTHS’ will undoubtedly help educate and inform those who see it, but whilst pigs and chickens are shut away, out of sight and out of mind, never seeing daylight for that cheap pork or chicken nugget, few of us will consider their plight nor the production process behind the label. We need to wrestle our humanity, our love and compassion for the animals within our food system back from those who prefer to keep us in the dark and treat all animals, whether it be our pet or those that give their lives for our food, with the respect, empathy and compassion that they all rightly deserve.

If you have been moved by what you have read, please take action for Europe’s caged pigs as well as hens, ducks, quail and even rabbits, who are all factory farmed in cages.

You can help by signing our European Citizens’ Initiative

Or as a British resident Sign our petition to British ministers asking them to End the Cage Age for all the UK’s farm animals.

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