Renaissance of the pig

According to a recent publication in the scientific journal International Journal of Comparative Psychology, pigs have excellent long-term memories, pigs can understand simple symbolic language and learn difficult combinations of symbols, likes to play and do sham fighting, similar to dogs and other mammals, they live in complex social communities where they work together and learn from each other, they show Machiavellian intelligence such as having perspective and tactical deception. Also, a pig can manipulate a joystick to move a cursor on the screen, a capacity they share with chimpanzees, they can use a mirror to find hidden food and show empathy when they see the same emotion in another individual. In short, pigs share cognitive abilities with other very intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins and humans.

Wageningen University researcher Inonge Reimert confirms these characteristics with her own recent research. ‘Pigs are social, smart, sensitive and can transfer their own emotions to other pigs. She removed pigs from the group and exposed them to positive or negative stimuli. Once back in the stable, the stall mates were also shown to show sombre or happy behavior. The emotion was transferred, concludes Reimert.

All these recent researches have consequences for the welfare of pigs in the barn.

The Netherlands has the second largest pig stock per square meter in Europe, according to Eurostat. Since 2006, the number of pigs in the Netherlands has increased by almost 10 percent (12.5 million pigs) but the number of farms has fallen sharply in recent decades. In 2000 the average pig farmer had about 900 animals, nowadays this has risen to about 3 to 4000 pigs per farm. This does not benefit the pig. Less living space, more environmental pollution, more suffering.

And that a lot goes wrong in Dutch slaughterhouses also confirms the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). In two years’ time they imposed 48 fines on 19 abattoirs for abuses in the delivery and killing of animals. According to the NVWA, it appears that the abattoirs in question have made few improvements and are still operational on the same footing.

Minister Carola Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality is facing an enormous task in the coming period: the reduction of the Dutch pig population in order to counter the smell and environmental nuisance. To this end, 120 million euros has been allocated to buy out pig farmers from 2019 and another 60 million for the ‘innovation and sustainability’ of companies. ‘By combating the odor, other environmental pollutants also contribute,’ according to the minister, ‘such as ammonia, particulate matter, methane and dead bacterial residues that could pose a risk to public health.’

There is no mention of animal suffering.

In China, 65 percent of the meat consumed is pork. That is about 700 million pigs a year. According to David Yeung, founder of Green Common, a veggie supermarket and restaurant chain in Hong Kong, this not only causes huge ethical problems, but also a huge environmental burden. That is why Yeung and his company Right Treat and a team of nutrition scientists came up with a vegetable vegan pork alternative that will be launched in Hong Kong this summer: Omnipork.

Yeung wanted to make a product that would taste like traditional pork and would have the same applications without the negative ethical, health and environmental consequences of slaughtering animals. The product is made from shiitake mushrooms, rice, non-GMO soya and vegetable protein. Yeung: ‘Pork is the most consumed meat in the world, especially in Asia. Chinese people use pork in countless different ways. That is why Omnipork is a perfect alternative to pork. It is 70 percent lower in saturated fat, 200 percent higher in calcium, 50 percent richer in iron than pork, has enough protein, is cholesterol-free and free from environmental pollution and pigskin.

Last week, Pigs announced a need to start a petition to encourage the government to improve controls of pig farms. According to Pigs in Need, half of all Dutch pigs suffer from one or more disorders. The website also contains 52 misleading statements about pork. It is stated that the “accommodation is geared to the needs of the pig and that healthy and vital piglets are bred.”

‘Nonsense!’ Says spokesman Frederieke Schouten, ‘if you are familiar with the bare, stuffed stables from the cattle industry. Six million pigs a year (14%) suffer on the farm.’

Sign the petition here:

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