Pigs are really smart, friendly and sociable -- and on U.S. farms, some 4.9 million pregnant pigs are kept alone in crates so small they can't even turn around.
A new study, just published in the journal Plos One, suggests that the public (understandably) doesn't like this practice, and likes it even less after getting more information.
And so for that reason, among others, farmers might want to stop using the crates.
"The agricultural industries require continued public support to survive and thrive," Daniel Weary, a professor of animal welfare at the University of British Columbia, and one of the study's authors, told The Huffington Post. "Few of our participants were willing to support the use of gestation stalls. After being provided more information about the stalls even fewer were willing to support their use."
Two hundred and forty-two mainly female North American participants were asked to register their attitudes toward the use of gestation crates before and after viewing videos, pictures and scientific papers sources from animal advocates and farm industry groups.
Before viewing the information, 30.4 percent of participants said they favored gestation crates. Afterwards, that figure went down to just 17.8 percent.
The good news is that the number of pigs confined to tiny crates is already going down as many companies are going crate-free, according to Matthew Prescott, senior food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States.
The even better news is that this study may speed up that movement, if farmers are interested in aligning their practices with public values -- which Weary thinks they are.
Weary said he approached this study not as an advocate, but as a researcher aiming to help farmers understand how the public views their work -- which could then help guide their practices.
In other words: when farmers see that the public disapproves of pig gestation crates, they may decide to stop using them.
"My hope is to encourage farmers to engage in real two-way conversations with citizens, explaining what they do and why they do it, but also listening to public concerns and looking for solutions that help bring their practices into alignment with broadly held public values," he said. "Farmers take great pride in what they do, including the food they produce and the care they provide for their animals."
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