Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

National Pig Day, Brutal Breeding, and the New York Times

Iowa pig farmer accused of animal welfare violations glorified in major media

March 1 was National Pig Day so I was unpleasantly surprised, and so were many people who wrote to me, to see an essay in the New York Times on 28 February by John Eligon called "An Iowa Farmer’s Quest for No Ordinary Pig". The story is about a pig farmer named Carl Edgar Blake II who is trying "to breed the perfect pig. Fatty and smooth. Meaty and flavorful." These unlucky animals are called the Iowa Swabian Hall pigs who "are floppy-eared with black fur, broad jowls, a thick rump, creased foreheads, and long bodies and snouts. When butchered, they have a broad slab of ivory fat to go with deep red meat, the antithesis of the 'other white meat' craze when the pork industry moved toward leaner hogs." Mr. Blake's business where the pigs are raised and killed - abused and even shot - is called Rustik Rooster Farms. 

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Dead pig walking: What happens at Rustik Rooster Farms

What surprised me about the New York Times essay was how flippant and dismissive it was not only about the breeding of these highly intelligent, emotional, and sentient animals for unneeded meals, but how it glorified the abuse of these amazing beings. I've written before about the horrific abuse of pigs who are bred for the sole purpose of providing food to humans in an essay called "Babe, Lettuce, and Tomato: Dead Pig Walking", and noted that pigs are very intelligent, highly social, and deeply emotional animals. They display many different personalities and really are extremely fascinating beings.

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. Clearly, 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. Their pain is 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. 

"You ain’t taking them over my dead body”

Back to Mr. Blake. Acceptance of the Iowa Swabian Hall pig hasn't been universal and in the essay we read that Mr. Blake "has had to wrestle aggressive pigs and even shot one. State inspectors have visited, demanding to see his wild boars out of concern that he possessed them illegally and mistreated them." No charges were filed after Mr. Blake said "You ain’t taking them over my dead body.”

There was also a suspected case of poisoning and Mr. Blake also talks about a “'super pig' he is breeding — one with the tasty qualities of the Swabian that can be raised at the speed of commercial pigs." Making super pigs simply means that more and more pigs will be bred, raised, and suffer as he attempts to bring more pigs to market more rapidly. 

When pigs and other animals go to press: The need for responsible media 

I've read the New York Times essay countless times and I simply don't see why the breeding of these supposedly tastier pigs is a news item. Yes, Mr. Blake is a character, but he is responsible for reprehensible pain, suffering, and death, and the essay blows it off as if it doesn't matter. It does.

When pigs and other animals go to press (see also) we should expect major media to be more responsible about how they are represented (see also and) and to pay attention to how they are egregiously abused - shot and mistreated in many other ways - as they are bred and shipped off to eventually wind up on platters of death. It would have been nice to see even a tiny bit of compassion and empathy for the horrific lives these animals endure as they are heartlessly bred for unneeded and supposedly tastier meals. 

I offer that on National Pig Day, and indeed on each and every day, we should celebrate pigs for the amazing beings they are and not represent them as if they are unfeeling objects who we can wantonly breed and kill for tastier and fattier meals. Animal abuse should never be glorifed as if it doesn't matter. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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