How cheerful was the duck in your crispy pancake before it met its end? Does the steak you’re eating come from a cow that was ‘bored,’ inquisitive’ or ‘uneasy?’ And how about that bacon? Was its original owner ‘radiating positive energy’ or simply ‘wary?’
Until now, we couldn’t – or didn’t – imagine what the animals on our plates felt during their lifetimes, but a new app, developed by Scotland’s Rural College for use on 1,800 Waitrose farms, aims to change that.
Farmers and inspectors will be able to input their animals’ emotional states on a sliding scale, from ‘lack-lustre’ and ‘insecure’ to ‘expressing delight,’ with a view to improving conditions and mental stimulation.
Of course, some might dismiss such close attention to the feelings of farmed livestock as a ridiculous waste of time and resources, when they’re imminently destined for human plates. But the idea behind the app is to move animal welfare beyond the simple absence of cruelty, and promote a positive state of wellbeing.
As a vegetarian, I support this project fully. What I find baffling, however is the fact that we can acknowledge an animal’s need for a fulfilling and enjoyable life, and still turn a blind eye to its premature killing. It’s reminiscent of The Hunger Games – “give them a hotel suite and designer clothes, for tomorrow they die.”
Of course, a happy animal heading for slaughter is infinitely better than an unhappy one – but the more we come to accept that animals are capable of joy, boredom, grief, delight and – most devastatingly – deep fear, surely the less cavalier we can afford to be about eating them. Yes, humans are designed as omnivores – but at the start of our evolution, we were dependent on what we could occasionally kill for ourselves. Now, although we can have any meat we like daily, packaged and chilled from the supermarket, we don’t need to eat half as much flesh as we currently consume, for the sake of our health or the planet.
It baffles me that by contrast, so many Brits adore our cats and dogs. We invest millions in toys and treats, we sleep alongside them, we monitor their emotional states, we can’t bear to imagine them being unhappy for a second.
But pigs are easily as intelligent as dogs and are gobbled up without a second thought, while cows provenly have ‘best friends’- members of the herd they prefer to hang around with. Research shows that cows also like classical music, and chickens can count, according to a recent study from the University of Padua. Surely, the more aware we become of the complex emotions and cognitive abilities of other animals, the less able we’ll be to send them to mass slaughter?
Admittedly, awareness is increasing – sales of free-range eggs have dramatically overtaken battery eggs in the last few years, as a result of welfare standards coming to public attention, despite the higher cost. And while currently, meat and poultry packaging offers no wellbeing information beyond ‘free range’, that could be set to change, as we embrace vegan alternatives and focus more on the way animals experience the world, less on the way they taste. Veganism is booming, and many who don’t plan to go the whole way are cutting down on meat. If assessing the wellbeing of livestock via an app can help us grasp that animals are deserving of a fulfilling existence, perhaps even more of us will turn vegetarian. I hope so – because the brutal truth is, we’re all animals. And it’s time we showed our fellow travellers a little more respect.
— to www.telegraph.co.uk