A dog is a cow is a pig: In the world of sentience, there is no difference (video) farm animals feel the same emotions as humans: pleasure, pain, joy and depression.


PHOTO/David Maska/Shutterstock

We witness our beloved pet pooches and feline friends experiencing moments of joy, pain, fear and even grief. We accept that they feel, they have an emotional world of their own. With this understanding, comes a moral imperative and legal framework to protect them from suffering.

Yet our empathy for our pets does not extend to the billions of animals we use and exploit for food, fashion, beauty and profit.

A dog is a cow is a pig. In the world of sentience, there is no difference.

What is animal sentience?

Sentience is the ability to perceive and feel things.

A sentient animal is aware of her surroundings, her relationships with other animals and humans, and sensations in her own body, such as pain, hunger, heat or cold. Animals avoid suffering and seek positive experiences, just as we humans do because they are a being who has “interests,” a being who, according to Dr. Bernard E. Rollin, a professor at Colorado State University, “prefers, desires, or wants.”

In 2012, an international group of eminent neuroscientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which confirmed that many animals, including all mammals and birds, possess the “neurological substrates that generate consciousness.”

Yes, animals do feel pain

According to Prof. Rollin, the neural mechanisms responsible for pain behavior are remarkably similar in all vertebrates. Pain relieving drugs control what appears to be pain in all vertebrates and some invertebrates. The natural pain-inhibiting systems found in the human body (such as endorphins) are very similar to those found in all other vertebrates.

Rollin says, “given that the mechanisms of pain invertebrates are the same, it strains credibility to suggest that the experience of pain suddenly emerges at the level of humans.”

Factory farm egg production involves negative welfare impacts for an egg-laying hen and her chicks. These are “inherent cruelties”: husbandry practices or behaviors that are an intrinsic part of the egg production process across all production systems—cage, barn-laid and free range. (infographic: Voiceless)

Peter Singer, DeCamp professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author of Animal Liberation, argues it is “unreasonable to suppose that nervous systems that are virtually identical physiologically, have a common origin and a common evolutionary function, and result in similar forms of behaviour in similar circumstances should actually operate in an entirely different manner on the level of subjective feelings.”

The emotional lives of animals

While animals cannot express their feelings verbally, or in ways we humans can understand, scientific studies and experts such as Dr. Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, clearly show that many animals have rich and deep emotional lives.

Dame Jane Goodall argues that, “farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain.”

However, it is important not only to focus on negative emotions such as stress and fear. Animal welfare, just like our human welfare, is also dependent on pleasurable emotions such as playing, socializing, communicating and forming family groups.

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