Summary: First, because pigs are not things to be used for our frivolous enjoyment. Second, because eating pigs supports the inhumane treatment of pigs by North American pig factories.
Eating Any (Sentient, Intelligent) Pig Is Wrong: Pigs are sentient, intelligent, sensitive mothers, fathers, and children who embody at least 45 million years of evolution of the SusScrofa (Eurasian wild boar) species. As a matter of basic morality, they should be respected by humans, not eaten by them.
The pig is by far the most intelligent of the animals commonly eaten in America. At least one study has concluded that pigs are more intelligent than porpoises, dogs, cats, or parrots. For example, pigs are better than dogs at solving mazes. They also are sensitive and affectionate animals. They deserve more respect from humans than is reflected by the joke-laden labels we have given them: “pig,” “hog,” and “swine.”
Several moral philosophers have concluded that it is immoral to eat pig flesh under any circumstances. North Americans certainly do not need to eat these beings to survive. To frivolously end the life of a sentient being is immoral.
Eating Factory Pigs Condones Cruelty: In a 1999 textbook, an Oregon State University Professor of Animal Agriculture writes:
Bacon, ham, pork, sausage (or pork-based bologna and hot dogs) most likely contain pig flesh “produced” in a modern “confinement” pig factory. The most modern of these facilities “produces” more than 2 million pigs annually per facility. How are these factory pigs systematically treated, and how does this treatment appear to affect the pigs?
Slaughtered In Their Youth: A pig’s natural life span is around 15 to 25 years. Most factory pigs are slaughtered at 5-6 months of age (unless they’re used as breeders). They are killed at less than 4% of their life span. No matter how they are treated before they are slaughtered, this deprivation of 96% of their natural life span is wrong.
Prematurely Weaned: Pigs are caring mothers. Expectant pigs temporarily leave their social group shortly before giving birth, to build a remote nest. Baby pigs naturally suckle for about 12-15 weeks and stay with their mother for about 2-3 years. In pig factories, expectant mothers try in vain to build nests by scraping with their hooves the slatted concrete floor of their cages. Their babies are prematurely taken from them at only about two-three weeks after birth. The babies are weaned 9-12 weeks early because their mothers are forced into almost constant pregnancy. A 1993 textbook notes that allowing baby pigs to wean for even twelve weeks would be “grossly uneconomic.” When the female pigs can breed no more, after about six litters over two to three years, they are slaughtered.
Factory Well-Being Is Not Pig Well-Being: Some argue that it would be unprofitable for pig factories to mistreat pigs, so they must not do so. The systematically premature killing and weaning of pigs demonstrates that the welfare of individual pigs is not consistent with the economic welfare of the pig factories. It apparently is not economical for the factories to allow a pig to live longer than 5-6 months or allow babies to suckle longer than 3 weeks. The costs of feed and building space help dictate these economics, while biology and evolution help dictate the natural life span and weaning period of the pigs. It is not surprising that the two are inconsistent, or that the welfare of the factory prevails.
This systematic abuse of pigs is well documented. Individual instances of special abuse are harder to discover, but we expect that the following incident (see May 15, 2000, PETA press release) is not an isolated one:
Do Factory Pigs Really Suffer?: There are many other examples of how the pigs’ natural needs conflict with the factories’ economics. First, however, we need to warn against unreasoned anthropomorphism–the ascribing of human characteristics to other animals. Sometimes this is justified and sometimes it isn’t. Thus, it is important to consider the nature of pigs, and their natural behaviors, to try to discern how much they suffer from different types of treatment. It also is important to consider the pigs’ own reactions to their treatment.
Constant Confinement: Pigs are active and curious. In natural environments, they spend about 35% of their time investigating novel surroundings. They get bored easily. This is why some traditional hog farmers provided their pigs with different gadgets with which to play. Factory pigs, however, are confined in cramped, barren indoor cages or pens with virtually nothing to investigate. For example, each breeding female spends nearly all of her shortened life in a cage that is barely bigger than her body. She cannot even turn around. She can stand, or lie down, or take one or two steps forward or back. That’s it. She is reduced to gnawing on the metal bars of her cage.
Sensitive, Affectionate Beings: Pigs are sensitive. They can read a person’s mood. The leading authority on pigs in America during 1860-1900 was Joseph Harris. In 1883, he wrote that “there is no more docile or tractable animal on a farm than a well-bred pig. There is a good deal of human nature about him. He can be led where he cannot be driven. A cross-grained man will soon spoil a lot of well-bred pigs. They know the tone of his voice, and it is amusing to see what tricks they play on him.”
Pigs are affectionate. They enjoy close contact with people who treat them well, and will roll over to have their bellies rubbed. Here is an excerpt from a review of a book on slaughterhouses, which graphically makes this point:
Social, Roving Beings: Pigs naturally rove in social groups, build communal nests, and protect each youngster in the group. Because of their roving nature, according to one textbook, “diseases and parasites were almost unknown” amongst wild pigs. Factory pigs, however, cannot form social groups, rove, or build communal nests. Many die from porcine stress syndrome. They are forced to stand on slatted concrete floors which often injure or deform their legs and feet. Pre-slaughter disease, injury, and death are common, despite most of them being slaughtered at only 5-6 months of age.
Behaviorial Consequences Of Their Mistreatment: The harsh conditions take a psychological as well as a physical toll on the pigs. Factory pigs tend to bite their neighbors’ tails. A 1984 text on the science of pork production stated that “tail biting [and other behavior problems] are warning signals that conditions are not right.” A 1993 text concurs that “at higher stocking densities the likelihood of heightened aggression, cannibalism and disease outbreaks rapidly rises, . . . .”
Physical Abuse, Death: Instead of correcting the conditions, however, the factory pig producers “solve” the tail biting problem by cutting the pigs’ tails and canine teeth (normally without anesthesia) on their first or second day of life.
Factories castrate male piglets not selected for breeding, in order to improve the taste of their flesh.
Pigs roll in water or mud because they otherwise have little ability to regulate their body temperature. When pigs are transported to slaughterhouses, they are squeezed onto overcrowded trailers having no temperature regulation. This reportedly kills about 80,000 pigs each year.
There are many more ways in which pigs are forced to suffer, from their very first breath of foul air to their final breaths on a belt conveying them to slaughter.
Stop Condoning This Cruelty: People support this cruel treatment of pigs whenever they buy pig flesh in a store or restaurant. The industry banks on us not thinking about its practices, or about the intelligent, affectionate animal whose flesh we’re asked to eat. We urge you to be different, to consider whom you’re eating and how they suffered. Please don’t eat pig flesh.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”