“We simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought”.
This statement was made by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) in its submission to the Ontario government in support of Bill 156 – a recently passed ‘ag-gag’ bill that effectively conceals animal cruelty, unsafe working conditions and environmental issues on farms, during transport and at slaughterhouses. Animal protection organizations, legal experts and the Canadian Association of Journalists have all raised serious concerns about this dangerous legislation.
Also concerning is the fact that the OFA, which represents more than 38,000 farm operations across Ontario, questions the sentience of animals. The organization offers no source for their claim. Meanwhile, a strong and growing body of research provides evidence of animal intelligence and sentience.
Chickens, for example, utilize reasoning to inform how they organize socially by watching other chickens interact. Research also suggests they are cognitively complex, with the ability to demonstrate self-control and self-assessment – capacities that suggest self-awareness.
Cows are also socially complex creatures who form strong bonds and experience a range of emotions. They express excitement and signs of pleasure when they figure out intellectual challenges, which suggests self-awareness and understanding of their own actions.
Pigs share some of the same cognitive abilities as other highly intelligent species, including dogs, chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins. They are capable of “emotional contagion”, which is a form of empathy for the emotional state of another.
Experts suggest we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface in our understanding of farmed animal intelligence. Animal behaviour expert Dr. Marc Bekoff also explores this topic in a recent Psychology Today article, written in response to the OFA’s statements. Importantly though, as Dr. Bekoff notes, “intelligence is a slippery concept and should not be used to assess suffering..in addition, the way in which people treat or mistreat other animals and how they feel about it isn’t a matter of how smart they are. Rather, nonhumans are sentient beings, and it’s a matter of how they suffer, not if they suffer.”
But the reality of animal sentience creates ethical dilemmas for an industry that relies on raising and slaughtering more than 830 million land animals every year in Canada. It’s easier to pretend animals aren’t complex, feeling and thinking beings and it’s better for business if the public stays uninformed about the realities on farms, during transport and in slaughterhouses.
How you can help
Bill 156 is an incredibly dangerous step in the wrong direction and follows on the heels of similar ‘ag-gag’ legislation passed earlier this year in Alberta (Bill 27). The move by government and industry to hide the issues within the animal agriculture system, rather than address them directly, and to question the sentience of farmed animals should concern Canadians.
The effort to repeal and prevent further ‘ag-gag’ legislation is underway – join in by contacting Ontario’s Premier & Alberta’s Premier. In addition, we as individuals can also stand up for animals every time we sit down to eat. Learn more and take our Plant-Based Pledge today for free recipes.