In vitally important news from the porcine world, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc. has ceased its practice of keeping sows in “gestation crates,” spaces so confined that the pigs can’t turn around. The company, reports the Virginian-Pilot, has spent $360 million renovating its farms with “group-housing systems,” a technocratic term for pens.
Pigs are highly intelligent, highly social, and capable of human-like emotions. In her book “Personalities on the Plate,” College of William & Mary professor Barbara J. King describes Esther the Wonder Pig, who lives in the home of Derek Walter and Steve Jenkins in Ontario, Canada.
Esther’s daily routine gives us a window on the nature of animal sentience. … Jenkins and Walter note Esther’s quickness in learning how to unlock doors throughout their house — including the freezer door. Given a “treat ball,” a mini mental puzzle that challenges the receiver to extract peanut butter, Esther succeeds more rapidly than her dog companions. … More than formal problem-solving, though, it’s Esther’s vivid presentation of self that clues us into her mental life. She’s keenly attentive to people and events around her; often she makes direct eye contact with the camera when being photographed. She loves frozen mango smoothies, bagpipe music, trotting around the spacious orchard outside her house, and cuddling with her dog and human companions.
Pigs have feelings. They are smart, loyal, and affectionate. The industrial warehousing of such an intelligent, sentient creature is a blight on the human conscience. Kudos to Smithfield for introducing group-housing systems. Next step: free range pig farms. I, for one, will be happy to pay a small premium to consume bacon guilt free.