27 February 2012

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:
Re “Don’t Presume to Know a Pig’s Mind” (Op-Ed, Feb. 20): 

Blake Hurst, a former hog farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, cautions that “we can’t ask the pigs what they think.” But we can ask, and they can answer. Not in words, of course, but they can answer in ways that we can understand if we are paying attention. 

People who study pigs say they are as intelligent as a 3-year-old child, smarter even than the dogs we share our homes with. Would anyone in this day and age dare to say that we cannot presume to know a dog’s mind, that a dog cannot tell us if it is happy or sad, frustrated, lonely or bored? 

I think it is safe to say that yes, an intelligent animal is unhappy, even downright miserable, being confined to a crate two by seven feet for months on end. 

Norfolk, Va., Feb. 21, 2012 

To the Editor:
Blake Hurst’s observations about happy pigs and unhappy farmers aren’t about the well-being of either. They’re about protecting a system that produces cheap food. That system may treat sentient animals like car parts, ruin antibiotics we need for human medicine, and destroy rural communities by polluting our air and water, but at least it’s “efficient” (a word Mr. Hurst hammers three times). 

The meat industry loves to squeal that “the cost of bacon will rise” whenever it’s faced with pressure to change. I served on the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which released a report in 2008 that detailed exactly how much these “efficiencies” are costing America. 

This week, Bon Appétit Management Company vowed that by 2015, none of the three million pounds of pork we serve a year (including 800,000 pounds of bacon) will come from hogs confined in gestation crates. It’s time to send the message that cost is not the only important consideration. 

Chief Executive, Bon Appétit
Management Company
Palo Alto, Calif., Feb. 20, 2012 

To the Editor:
Blake Hurst asserts that “production methods should not cause needless suffering,” but the position he takes does just that. 

Mr. Hurst flippantly questions the ability to measure a pig’s happiness, but sound science—not to mention common sense—clearly establishes that mother pigs locked in gestation crates with so little space that they cannot turn around for most of their lives do indeed suffer. There are more humane alternatives available that would reduce that condition, and according to experts at Iowa State University, some forms of alternative sow housing could actually cost less in dollars and labor—savings that could potentially reach the customer. 

Moreover, pigs are not the only ones that would be happier with welfare improvements: according to a nationwide poll commissioned by the ASPCA, a majority of Americans want farm animals to be treated in a way that inflicts the least amount of pain and suffering possible. That sounds like a win-win to us. 

Dir., Farm Animal Welfare, ASPCA
New York, Feb. 22, 2012 

To the Editor:
Blake Hurst dismisses companies and consumers who are embracing food production methods that provide more respect for animals and the environment as being motivated by “nostalgia.” He doesn’t recognize the public health and ecological harms caused by industrial food animal production methods, including increased antibiotic resistance, polluted drinking water, huge fish kills and impaired air quality leading to respiratory illness. 

How does the health of a farmer’s family and community figure in when they are making the decision to continue industrialized production methods? 

In addition, producing more meat worsens worldwide hunger and food insecurity by dedicating precious farmland and water resources to the production of animal feed. Reducing meat consumption and shifting to more ecologically sensitive methods would improve public health by cleaning up the environment and reducing intake of saturated fats, a worthy goal not rooted in nostalgia but in ecologic and biomedical science. 

Baltimore, Feb. 20, 2012
The writer is a doctoral fellow, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. 
To the Editor:
Thanks to Blake Hurst for reminding us how bizarre it is for humans to think that they know what makes other animals happy. We have a hard enough time figuring out what makes people happy, but chickens? Are they happier scratching around the barnyard or sitting confined in cages? Who knows? 

The idea that eggs from free-range chickens are somehow morally superior to other eggs is, frankly, weird. No one, Mr. Hurst and me included, wants animals to be subjected to unnecessary pain. But let’s not play psychiatrist with other animals’ minds. 

Cabin John, Md., Feb. 20, 2012