In Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer asks whether animals can can sense when they are about to die. The question is interesting and not at all uncommon, as most people like to anthropomorphize animals to some extent. Still, when Foer asks the manager of a slaughterhouse if he thinks they can, he answers, “I don’t get that impression at all. I mean, they’re going to be scared ’cause they’ve never been here before.” Naturally, the question has been faced with a lot of debate.
There’s actually a fair bit of information that suggests they can sense it. For example, pigs are slaughtered with much care. If they are stressed, lactic acid builds up, and their muscles deteriorate, meaning their meat isn’t as tasty. When it comes time for slaughter, the pigs are picked off one at a time, so as not to cause too much suspicion among the rest. The individual pig is led to a secluded room, far away from workers, pigs and inspectors. Here, the “kill man” stuns it, rendering it unconscious. Afterwards, it is ready to be processed. Foer also tells of a cow who not only managed to escape from its slaughterhouse, but also to run through a field and swim across a lake before being captured. While it may not have known exactly what would have happened to it, the incident implies that it knew something bad was about to go down.
Of course, even if it can be proven that animals can sense their demise, what exactly would we do differently? Humans have treated each other with even less compassion. At least animals give provide food.