Farmers, not activists, should be in charge of pig care

A counterpoint to  Pregnant and Caged, posted earlier this week.

From actor Ryan Gosling to, in these pages, activist Rebecca Aldworth, animal rights adherents have launched a public campaign in Canada against the use of individual maternity pen housing for pregnant pigs on pork farms. But they’re omitting one key fact: They’re not the real experts on animal care.

Consider this analogy. If you needed a credible opinion on a car, who would you rather ask: An auto mechanic, or a guy who bikes everywhere? On the one hand, you have a person who works every day with the subject matter, and on the other, you have a guy who might have read a few things but who doesn’t really have much hands-on experience.

It seems rather obvious who most people would turn to. Yet when it comes to how food is produced, we too often are influenced by the non-experts like celebrities and professional activists in the animal-rights “conflict industry.”

Individual maternity pens are stalls that sows are placed in during their pregnancy. Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians find that they provide for animal welfare. These maternity pens provide for individual care and feeding of the animals, as well as protection—when housed in groups, pregnant pigs can fight for dominance, leading to serious injuries to animals.


Unsurprisingly, the dose of reality that pigs can attack each other in group settings didn’t make into Aldritch’s piece. That’s because the whole story isn’t really the concern of the Humane Society of the United States or its Canadian arm, because a knowledgeable consumer would threaten their efforts.


Recent polling shows that Canadians do, in fact, stand by the use of individual maternity pen housing on farms. When told the reasons for farmers using individual maternity pens, more than four times as many were in support (63%) than in opposition (15%).


Consider the noise coming from the side of animal liberation activists. These groups aren’t full of veterinarians or farmers. So they couch their arguments in logical flim-flam, such as in comparing humans to pigs. Would you put a pregnant woman in a stall? That’s the crux of Aldritch’s editorial. But this appeals to emotion, not reason.

 Pigs aren’t people. Ask a pig what it was doing yesterday or what the sum of 2 and 2 is, and you’ll just get an oink or a grunt. Human cognition—and human welfare—are on a totally different level than pig cognition and welfare.

 That’s not to imply that pig welfare doesn’t matter. It does. Farmers and veterinarians have their animals’ best interests at heart and many have decided that this is the best housing option for their farms. But to call maternity pens “abuse” is to cheapen the word. Putting pregnant pigs in individual indoor housing isn’t the same thing as physical violence. It’s protective, and not just against aggressive pigs; free-range pigs, for example, might not get a kick out of winters in Manitoba.

 Here’s the bottom line of this noise: The Humane Society of the United States is simply against animal agriculture (by a leader’s own admission). But it’s not going to get a law passed that bans bacon and eggs. So it’s pushing “reforms” that drive up the cost of producing animal products by forcing farmers into costly infrastructure changes. And it’s trying to snooker the vast majority of the public that eats meat, eggs, and dairy.

 Farmers and veterinarians have hands-on experience dealing with pigs. Animal liberation activists have hands-on experience wielding a megaphone. Who would you rather trust on animal care?



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