By Invite , Maneka Gandhi

Why do people eat certain animals and keep others as pets? Very often because they think that the animals they eat are not sentient, do not feel fear, pain or stress. But all these animals feel exactly as you do, and they show their stress as well.

For instance, in farms where cattle are grown for slaughter, the cow will try to give birth to her child in a secluded place, and if she sees humans going there she actually tries to draw them away by pretending she is going to her calf somewhere else. It is as if she knows she is in a concentration camp and needs to give her child a fighting chance to escape.

In a few countries (it is now banned in most parts of the world including India and the EU) it is common for pregnant sows to be kept in “gestation crates” for their entire 16-week pregnancy period. A gestation crate is a metal crate or cage with a bare, slatted floor, which is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around and can only stand up and lie down with difficulty. How does the sow respond to this terrible stress? She goes into clinical depression, sham chewing and bar-biting, indicating severe frustration and stress.

Tail biting in pigs is considered an abnormal behaviour, where a pig bites or chews another pig's tail. This is a sign of extreme stress in the animal. Tail biting typically occurs in indoor facilities with a high density of pigs housed in a confined area with poor ventilation and/or poor feed quality and accessibility. Chickens show the same stress when they are cooped up with other chickens. The birds try to bite each other, or scratch each other’s wings off. Instead of making the place less stress free for hens, the poultry owner responds by cutting of the beaks and toes of chickens, making their lives even more stress and pain filled. Sheep that have restricted space, poor feed, and are maintained in indoor systems, start pulling out the wool of other sheep. It is usually one member of the group that initiates wool pulling and this catches on. This stress created behaviour has a social ranking as well, where the lowest ranking sheep usually are the victims of wool pulling.

Horses are built to walk and eat and have social relationships, and when these are thwarted, abnormal behaviour results. They weave their heads to and fro and keep shifting their weight from foot to foot. Crib biting is an abnormal, compulsive behaviour which involves the horse grabbing a solid object, such as the stall door or fence rail, with its incisors, then arching its neck, pulling against the object, and sucking in air.

When cattle are confined in intensive factories, they express stress through rolling their tongue, curling and uncurling it inside or outside their mouth, partially swallowing it and gulping air. Licking objects and biting bars is common.

Calves raised for 'white' veal are generally fed a milk-like diet from birth until they are slaughtered at about four months of age. The calves are prevented from eating any solid food, like grass, so that the colour of the meat remains pale. With a few days of this unnatural diet calves go into extreme stress. They spend hours per day in what appears to be 'vacuum grazing'. They extend the tongue out of the mouth and curl it to the side in what appears to be the action that cattle use to grasp a bunch of grass and pull it into the mouth, but the calves do this simply in the air, without the tongue contacting any physical object.

Calves without their mothers try to take hold and suck parts of the pen and buckets with their mouth, or even the skin of other calves. They prefer to suck ears, nave and scrotums. Their body position and posture resembles a naturally sucking calf, including pushing movements.

In order to measure stress in sheep, researchers at CSIRO in New South Wales devised an experiment to look for changes in behaviour that give away an animal’s mood. When humans are feeling anxious, we pay more attention to things that seem threatening. Scientists call this an “attention bias.” If farm animals do the same thing, then testing how attentive they are to threats could be a simple way to measure how anxious they are.

60 female Merino sheep were divided into three groups. A control group went through the experiment with only their natural level of anxiety. The researchers artificially increased the anxiety of the second group of sheep by injecting them with methyl-chlorophenylpiperazine or mCPP—a drug that “has been reported to induce anxiety in a range of species,” they write. The third group of sheep got a relaxing shot of diazepam, also known as Valium.

Each sheep was led into a walled yard with a food bucket sitting in the middle. A window in one of the walls revealed a dog sitting quietly outside. After 10 seconds, the window was shut so the sheep couldn’t see the dog anymore. Each sheep stayed in the yard for about three minutes while video cameras recorded its behaviour.

Every sheep froze when it saw the dog. But what happened after the window was shut?

Sheep in the control group spent about 22 seconds staring in the direction of the window after it was closed. Sheep injected with the anxiety-increasing mCPP spent almost 40 seconds like this. But sheep injected with the anti-anxiety drug stared for just 14 seconds, on average, before moving on with their lives. More than half of the diazepam sheep then ate from the bucket. Hardly any control sheep could bring themselves to eat and none of the high-anxiety sheep ate a bite.

The more anxious the sheep, the more attention it paid to the perceived threat – just as a human would. While the experiment, that anxiety (or lack of anxiety), was drug-induced. But it provided a way to measure the anxiety sheep feel from their everyday experiences.

Farmed fish live in very stressful conditions, vastly different to what they have evolved to cope with in the wild. Fish in aquaculture farms are forced to live in crowded tanks and endure unwanted interactions with other fish, handling by humans, struggles to get food, and sudden changes in lighting, water depth and currents. Cooped up, these fish live a life of suffering. Up to a quarter of fish in fish farms have stunted growth, and so acute is their mental trauma that they float lifelessly on the surface of the tanks. These fish are known as 'drop outs.' According to new research by Royal Society Open Science, these fish exhibit behaviour and brain chemistry identical to those of very stressed and depressed people.

Put yourself in their place. You don’t just kill them once, when you eat them. They die a thousand deaths every day.

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Pl. add: To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org