Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives Bruce Friedrich explains the mission and intention behind the Someone, Not Something project.
What is the “Someone, Not Something” project?
BF: The “Someone” project is Farm Sanctuary’s latest effort to introduce people to who farm animals are. We see our dogs and cats as members of our families — as someones, not somethings, but most people don’t view farm animals that way.
Ever since I heard Cameron Diaz tell Jay Leno that she wouldn’t eat a pig because scientists had found that pigs have cognitive abilities beyond those of three-year-old human children — and so eating a pig would be like eating her niece — I’ve been intrigued by the disconnect most Americans experience between the animals we eat and the animals we welcome into our homes and families. Gene is fond of saying that “at Farm Sanctuary, the animals are our friends, and we don’t eat our friends.” I like that concept a lot — it’s simple, and it captures what we’re trying to do: to help everyone see farm animals as “someones.”
Q:How is this project different from other Farm Sanctuary programs?
BF: At Farm Sanctuary, we do a superb job of introducing farm animals to a wide audience and telling animals’ stories. We try to bridge that gap most people have in understanding and empathizing with farm animals, which is a result of the fact that they rarely have an opportunity to interact with them in their everyday lives. This project will add scientific backing to our everyday stories, focusing on the science of farm animals’ behavior, cognition, and emotion — for example, studies demonstrating that pigs can play video games more effectively than primates, chickens are skilled at navigating mazes, sheep remember one another for years, and fish use tools.
Why is this project important to Farm Sanctuary’s mission and advocacy for farm animals?
BF: We have seen in the real world that many, many people continue to eat chickens or pigs out of a misunderstanding about who farm animals are, and we’ve seen a fascination with ethological work with animals, such as apes, dolphins, and elephants, which leads to more protection and respect based on this new science.
Recent studies of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in chimpanzees have been instrumental in getting more rights for them; in fact, one of our scientific advisors, primatologist and medical doctor Hope Ferdowsian, explains that “recent events, fueled by emerging science, have resulted in the de facto termination of chimpanzee experimentation in the United States.” Similarly, recent studies of cetaceans (i.e. whales, dolphins, and porpoises) led to a declaration of rights for them that was presented to a packed room at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. There’s no reason ethology can’t do the same thing for farm animals, who are complex individuals and are more like us than they are unlike us.
Why are farm animal intelligence, emotion, and behavior important for us to understand — isn’t simple respect for life enough?
BF: That’s a very good point. Yes, the most important reason for not eating a chicken or a pig is the simple fact that animals are living creatures who have the capacity to feel pain and suffer. That’s a lower-order biological reality that is basically the same, physiologically, for all mammals, birds, and fish. We would never grant fewer rights to humans based on level of cognition or complexity of emotion and behavior.
But for many people, that argument is clearly not enough. Fully 97 percent of Americans agree that animals should be protected from abuse, and one-quarter say that animals should have the same rights as humans. And yet the vast majority of people eat animals. Why? We think it’s because they don’t know and empathize with farm animals in the same way they do with dogs and cats, animals most Americans would never eat.
Q:How can this project help change the way society views and treats farm animals?
BF: When we tell people that chickens learn from watching other chickens on TV, that fish can learn to escape a net and remember what they learned for years, and that cows experience “eureka” moments similar to humans when they solve a problem — and that all of these animals are capable of experiencing fear, pain, and psychological distress — it moves people in a way that a more general discussion of farm animals as our friends often doesn’t. We want more people to understand who farm animals are, and a part of that process is presenting the science that proves their individuality, so that people see them as animals who are worthy of respect — as someone, not something.
Can you comment on the current state of research on farm animal cognition and emotion?
BF: It’s in its infancy relative to work with dogs and wild animals, such as primates, some birds, elephants, and dolphins. These types of studies have rarely included farm animals up until now, but what we know already is intriguing and suggests that there’s a lot more to learn; for example, in some areas, chickens and pigs are able to do things previously observed only with primates. We present some of the most interesting work to date in the current version of the Someone pages of the website.
What should we look forward to seeing in the Someone, Not Something section of the website in the future?
BF: We’ll be highlighting particularly interesting research, creating and posting scientific white paper reviews by species, and, eventually, we hope to be producing observational research of our own. When we do, there will be updates in our blogs. Stay tuned!