Animal exploitation is so ingrained in society that most people contribute to it unknowingly. Globally, humans consume about 350 million tons of meat a year—three times the amount that was consumed fifty years ago, with this number only rising as countries develop economically and populations rise (The World Counts, 2021; Ritchie & Roser, 2019). While the last fifty years saw the world population double, global meat consumption tripled (Thornton, 2019; Ritchie & Roser, 2019). Today, the average European consumes nearly 80 kilograms of meat a year, while the average North American consumes over 110 kilograms (Ritchie, 2019; Ritchie & Roser, 2019). This quantity of meat requires the killing of billions of animals—over 80 billion land animals a year globally (according to the latest data from 2019) (FAO, 2021).

Despite being treated like unfeeling objects of economic value, farmed animals have unique personalities and traits similar to those of humans. Just like us, farmed animals–including cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep–have a central nervous system, making them scientifically proven to feel pain and avoid situations of it (Rowan, et al., 2021). Recent studies have concluded that fishes and crustaceans also experience pain (Animal Equality, 2021; Birch, et al., 2021). Not only do these animals feel pain and try to avoid it, they also all have special, unique personalities.

Cows: Vegan Blog (800x600)

Getting to know farmed animals.

Cows [1] enjoy being pet (just like our dogs!) and crave social interactions with other animals—in their natural environment, they oftentimes form lifelong friendships with other cows; they also feel deep love for members of their family and mourn when a loved one has passed or is separated from them–the latter being routinely the case between mother cow and calf in the dairy industry.

Mother cows are extremely protective of their offspring, which is what makes the dairy industry especially cruel.

Cows can communicate with one another through a variety of vocal calls, can bicker with one another and make up, enjoy problem-solving puzzles (and have been shown to celebrate when they succeed!), and are able to remember many individual faces—both human and non-human—for life.

Chickens [2]* are intelligent and self-aware (meaning they can distinguish themselves from others), with their cognitive skills resembling that of a dog or cat.

Chickens form strong friendships and family ties–mother hens cluck softly to their unborn chicks and become very defensive once they have hatched; chickens are also extremely social, so much so that when a close companion has died, the surviving friend oftentimes dies soon after due to extreme levels of grief and heartbrokenness.

Chickens demonstrate Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when asleep, proving that they are capable of dreaming. These fascinating beings also have an incredible memory–they can recognize about 100 other chickens and humans based on their facial features for extended periods of time.

Turkeys [3]* share some traits with chickens; however, they are their own species with distinct character. Turkeys, like chickens, are intelligent, sensitive, and highly social animals—their purring and adoration for cuddles from humans makes them similar to the dogs and cats we love at home. In their natural habitat, they are very curious animals who enjoy exploring (when they aren’t found playing with one another).

[1] Information on cows obtained from Goldstein, 2022; Viva!, 2022; Animal Outlook, 2019
[2] Information on chickens obtained from Four Paws, 2022a; BCSPCA, 2020a
[3] Information on turkeys obtained from Four Paws, 2019a; One Kind Planet, 2016a

Pigs [4]* are considered the fifth-most intelligent animal in the world, making them as smart as human toddlers and smarter than our dogs and cats. Like chickens, mother pigs sing to their young while nursing and love sleeping nose to nose with one another. These natural tendencies are impossible for pigs to carry out when they are kept in cramped gestation crates and treated like commodities in the animal agriculture industry, rather than the sensitive individuals that they are. Like the other animals mentioned thus far, pigs are highly social and have the ability to dream. In nature, they are very clean and neat animals (unlike most narratives that portray them to be dirty)—they rub themselves in mud to cool themselves off, as they have very few sweat glands: the mud also acts as a natural sunscreen for them. These bright animals like to relieve themselves far away from their living and feeding areas—something that is impossible for them to do in the animal agriculture industry where they are forced into tight quarters, surrounded by their feces.

Despite a common misconception that sheep [5]* are ‘simple-minded’ animals, they are extremely intelligent, ranking not far behind pigs. They can recognize up to 50 sheep and human faces and are able to differentiate facial features—they prefer seeing a human smiling over frowning! They are protective mothers, defend their friends, and have a naturally curious mind. Sheep can be trained as quickly as dogs and are known for their gentleness. Sheep are social animals who, when experiencing stress or isolation, demonstrate signs of depression by hanging their heads and avoiding otherwise happy activities—just like humans would.

Goats [6]*, along with sheep, are one of the most consumed animals in the world. These animals are very social and, like sheep, become depressed when separated from their friends and family. 

Goats form strong relationships, especially between mother and ‘kid’; mothers are known to call out for their kids to make sure they don’t wander off too far. These animals are intelligent and known for their extremely curious nature.

Fishes [7]* are also social, intelligent beings with strong memories, despite old myths that argue otherwise; they remember their predators and some species can recognize human and other fishes’ faces. It is common for fishes, after having been caught using painful metal hooks and re released into the water, to take measures to avoid being caught again. Some demonstrate behaviors that show they are self-aware, including attempting to remove marks on themselves when looking into a mirror. Some species use tools (e.g., rocks) to open shells such as clams and mussels to acquire food, which demonstrates complex problem-solving abilities. These beings can create art in the sand to attract mates and enjoy playing with one another. When isolated from their group, fishes shown signs of depression. Recent studies have found that farmed fish suffer from severe depression due to the high levels of stress in that environment; some show signs of ‘giving up on life’ and the equivalent of what, for a human would be considered, suicidal tendencies.

[4] Information on pigs obtained from Four Paws, 2019b; Valla, 2019
[5] Information on sheep obtained from Farm Sanctuary, 2022; Lighthouse Farm Sanctuary, 2020; Spindler, 2020a; Four Paws, 2019c
[6] Information on goats obtained from Four Paws, 2022b; One Kind Planet, 2016b
[7] Information of fishes obtained from Animal Equality, 2021; BCSPCA, 2020b; Spindler, 2020b; Animals Australia, 2016a & 2016b

The plight of farmed animals

Now that we know more about these distinct animals, the following paragraphs serve to provide insight into some of the practices that are allowed to be performed on these sensitive, individual beings.

Farmed animals are tortured and killed following their short-lived lives in cramped, disease-cultivating confinement—normally restricted in quarters where they cannot stand up properly and often in their own feces [8]; pigs live in gestation crates that are so small they cannot turn around, in which females are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination [9]; cows are also routinely artificially inseminated [10], whose calves are separated from them immediately after birth in order to reserve milk for human consumption (they are both known to cry for days because of their separation)[11]; broiler chickens are deprived of food and genetically modified to grow faster to produce more meat quickly, who are then slaughtered at four months old; turkeys are also bred to grow faster and are genetically modified to have more ‘white’ meat, since this is what consumers desire; turkeys and chickens are bred to the point that their bodies are so large that they cannot support themselves [12]; chickens have their beaks painfully trimmed; cows, pigs, sheep and goats have their ears tagged and sliced for identification purposes (‘ear notching’), and piglets routinely have their teeth clipped and genitals and tails mutilated (castration and ‘tail docking’)—the latter two practices of which sheep are also subject to—all without anesthesia, the shock of which leaves these animals trembling for days [13]. As animal rights activist Amanda Waxman documents,

“[w]hen kept in confined, crowded spaces on factory farms, pigs become stressed and may exhibit compulsive behaviors. One of the most harmful of these behaviors is biting their own tails. Instead of giving pigs more room to help relieve their stress, meat producers resort to cutting off each pig's tail without anesthetic”

(Waxman, 2020, n.p.).

Unfortunately, the list goes on: cows, pigs, sheep and goats are electrocuted with stun guns and cattle prods to put them into submission—if this does not work to get the animals to cooperate, slaughterhouse workers have been known to slam the animals’ bodies into the ground and kick them mercilessly [14].

Pigs are often mass killed in gas chambers; pigs, birds, and cattle are sometimes boiled alive while conscious; another method for their killing—including for sheep and goats—is to be decapitated while hung upside down, a method which allows blood to escape their bodies quicker [15]; over one trillion fish are killed each year for consumption, with the most common method of their slaughter being suffocation that can take over an hour [16]; land animals are often transported in overcrowded trucks to slaughterhouses in different countries in trips that customarily take over 24 hours, usually in extreme weather conditions, without having any water or food—many end up ill, injured or dead by the time they reach their destination [17].

As put by the nonprofit journalism organization Sentient Media, which seeks to provide transparency around the role of animals in society:

“In a slaughterhouse, cows are not cows, pigs are not pigs, and chickens are not chickens. They are commodities that need to be quickly chopped up into food that will eventually make its way to the consumer. They are not sentient beings: they are products”

(Sentient Media, 2019, n.p.).

The meat, dairy and egg industries disregard the distinct personalities that these sensitive farmed animals have. You, however, have the choice to care!

[8] Confinement information obtained from Geer, 2020; Waxman, 2020

[9] Gestation crate information obtained from Harsh, 2020; Waxman, 2020

[10] Artificial insemination information obtained from Harsh, 2020; Geer, 2020; HSUS, 2009

[11] Dairy farm practices information obtained from Geer, 2020; HSUS, 2009

[12] Chicken and turkey confinement and plumping practices information obtained from Geer, 2020; Narula, 2014

[13] Castration, tail docking, debeaking, and other mutilations information obtained from Geer, 2020; RSPCA, 2020; Waxman, 2020

[14] Cattle prodding, stun guns, and similar procedures information obtained from Kinder World, 2021; Sentient Media 2019

[15] Animal slaughter methods information obtained from Kinder World, 2021; Waxman, 2020; Animal Equality, 2016

[16] Fish slaughter method information obtained from Fish Count 2019; Poli, Parisi, Scappini et al., 2005

[17] Live animal transport information obtained from Waxman, 2020; Animal Equality, 2016

Cognitive dissonance: What is it?

There are additional cruel practices that are too numerous to list that are performed on billions of land animals each year (trillions, when counting aquatic life)—their bodies tortured and dismantled into profitable commodities.

This is not to mention the torture involved in fur, down feather, leather and wool production [18]; ‘entertainment’ businesses, such as circuses, aquatic parks and zoos that cruelly confine animals in anything but ‘natural’ habitats [19]; and the dogs, monkeys, rabbits and mice who are subjected to animal testing, with harmful products injected into them and purposely pour into their stinging eyes [20]. The slaughterhouse operations mentioned in this article are also not specific to one country, but practiced largely worldwide (Sentient Media, 2019; Sanbonmatsu, 2011). 

Sociologist Bob Torres believes such cruelty has been occurring and continues to be accepted in global society because “…we are rarely forced to think about where what we consume comes from” (Torres, 2007a, pg. 1). He continues:

“Sitting down to a meal, even the most socially attuned of us is often able to tune out the suffering on the plate; there are a million miles between the chicken or steak or other animal flesh on our plates and the animal who produced them, and for most of us, this is a happy psychological distance”

(Torres, 2007b, pg. 7).

The psychological divide that Torres mentions here is a type of ‘cognitive dissonance’. Cognitive dissonance in the broad sense refers to “…a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors” (McLeod, 2018). In other words, it happens when someone holds two incompatible views, acting on one of them. When pertaining to the consumption of animals, it is sometimes referred to as the “Meat Paradox,” which is the “…psychological conflict between people’s dietary preference for meat and their moral response to animal suffering” (Shaw, 2019, n.p.). Cognitive dissonance takes place within the ‘animal lover’ who cuddles with their dog or cat while having eaten pig, cow or chicken throughout the day—animals who are just as social and wish not to be harmed like our beloved four-legged family members. Cognitive dissonance takes place all the time because Western society has well-defined who is worthy of belly rubs and whose fate is being inside our bellies. Between commercials and supermarket displays to social events, the consumption of specific types of animals has been long ingrained into respective societies. This deep social conditioning has made eating these unique individuals discussed above ‘the norm,’ and ‘the way things have always been’, but that doesn’t make it morally right and the way that it ought to be. 

[18]  More information can be obtained from Farm Sanctuary, 2021

[19] More information can be obtained from PETA, 2021a

[20] More information can be obtained from Humane Society International, 2012

So, what can we do?

Throughout this article, we have learned about the personalities and traits of farmed animals that make them more complex than the lifeless pieces of packaged meat we can find in our local supermarkets. Despite the emotional complexity, intelligence, and fear of being harmed that these animals have in common with us and the dogs and cats that we call family, farmed animals are systemically born into short lives of misery.

They are physically and emotionally unable to act in the way that they would in their natural habitat; instead, they are confined to solitary, filthy, claustrophobic cages and separated from family members who they miss desperately.

 If you believe that farmed animals deserve better than what was touched on in this article, and you are interested in joining a social movement that is trying to change this status quo for one that embraces animals for all their idiosyncrasies, then you should try going vegan! When buying animal products, you are sending the message that you support the animal agriculture industry that does these horrible acts to defenseless beings. By refusing to purchase animal products, you are taking a stand and protesting the way that farmed animals are currently being treated. Plus, you can watch videos of cute pigs, cows, chickens or goats playing with each other without feeling morally divided because you are watching them while eating them—without your cognitive dissonance kicking in.

Written by: Vivian Sandler
Vegan Content Manager, IAPWA

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