The vegan Humane Society of the United States is on the move in New Jersey, pushing a bill in the legislature that would ban the use of individual maternity pens to house pregnant pigs. We recently interviewed a veterinarian and an animal scientist who support the use of pens, as do hundreds of other experts. However, HSUS’s Paul Shapiro has an op-ed in the Star-Ledger with a rather curious co-author: controversial Princeton professor and Animal Liberation author Peter Singer.
Singer takes a coldly utilitarian view to the world, arguing that it’s morally OK to kill people after they’re born. In his analysis, this leads to such ends as “if killing [a] hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.”
(Gee, what a partner. All those HSUS claims about representing American “values” sure don’t seem so credible now, do they?)
Let’s get to the meat of the matter about maternity pens. Singer and HSUS pretend to argue on animal welfare grounds. Animal “rights,” which is what Shapiro and Singer are truly about, is a philosophy and not a hard science. So it’s a nice ploy on their part.
Animal welfare can be measured. Here’s one measure: Stress hormones. And interestingly, several recent studies find that pigs in group housing situations—as HSUS calls for—have higher blood levels of a stress marker.
Why could this be? It’s likely because pregnant pigs in groups can fight each other to establish dominance or fight over food.
That’s not to say group housing is bad. It’s also a valid way of housing pigs if managed properly. But it’s something else to take away what many consider a current best practice. According to a review of the evidence a few years back, maternity pens and well-managed group housing “produced similar states of welfare for pregnant gilts or sows in terms of physiology, behavior, performance, and health.”
On one side, you have farmers and veterinarians—experts who know a thing or two about caring for animals. On the other side, you have an ideological vegan activist and an ivory tower-dwelling “intellectual” who argues that it’s perfectly fine to kill kids after they’re born.
“The notion that human life is sacred just because it is human life is medieval,” Singer says in Writings on an Ethical Life.
But putting pigs in maternity pens, despite the benefits to their welfare, is abhorrent. Right.
Singer and HSUS are moving towards a more “humane” society, indeed. But frankly, they don’t seem the most qualified to comment on agricultural public policy.