Response to: New York Times “Don’t Presume to Know a Pig’s Mind”

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Response to: New York Times “Don’t Presume to Know a Pig’s Mind”

By Kathleen Paylor, Founder of Conscious Capital LLC

Kathleen Paylor has a Masters Degree in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts Veterinary School.

It is hard to know where to begin in response to Blake Hurst’s “Don’t Presume to Know a Pig’s Mind” Op-Ed of February 21. Lets start with animals, ethics, morality and science. In the second paragraph, Hurst says that production methods should not cause “needless suffering” to pigs. Is there such a thing as “needed” suffering? If so, who determines what is needless and what is needed?

He also states that maybe pigs are happier in warm, dry buildings than they are outside. This is a false and disingenuous dichotomy. First, there is extensive research on the kinds of conditions in which animals thrive and those in which they do not, some of the more well known data coming fromTemple Grandin. Simply because pigs can’t “tell” us how they feel in plain English does not mean that we can’t gather meaningful information about how they respond to different situations and stimuli. Hurst’s juxtaposition of warm dry buildings with the outdoors is an attempt to conjure in the reader’s mind a sheltered place that pigs might enjoy and where they might feel safe. That is far from the reality of the modern day large-scale pig farm.

Let’s move briefly now into the economics of Hurst’s points. He states that if manufacturers are forced to adopt more humane methods of production, the cost of bacon will rise and only wealthy consumers who can afford it and larger producers who can afford to adapt accordingly, will benefit. The costs might very well rise for the consumer, but the point Hurst misses, and sadly most Americans are unaware of, is that products are often cheap for the consumer because the costs are externalized, i.e., borne by someone or something else. These costs are intentionally made invisible to the consumer but they are very real.

In the case of large scale pork farming, the consumer can eat cheap bacon because the costs are borne (well out of sight and mind) by: the environment (environmental pollution that farming on this type of scale produces, most notably from waste is well documented); the production factory workers (who are rarely paid a living wage, toil in less than optimal and often dangerous conditions and rarely have health insurance); the animals (who lead lives of confinement and restriction); and the consumer who is ingesting food that has been pumped full of antibiotics, a practice whose health effects have yet to be fully understood and explicated.

Yes, when costs are internalized, the consumer often sees a more expensive product. What that (often slight) increase represents is a cleaner environment, more humanely treated animals and a fairly treated work force. The notion that only the wealthy can afford these products is a red herring. There are indeed real cultural and economic issues around food affordability, but the notion that humanely produced food is only the purview of wealthy progressives is yet another weapon in the public relations arsenal of the agribusiness industry who would have us believe that eating responsibly while caring for the planet, ourselves and those involved in the production cycle is an idle elitist pursuit rather than a humanistic goal for all of us.

Kathleen Paylor . Chief Spiritual Officer
Conscious Capital . Making Money Matter