An ad campaign starting in Winnipeg this week asks why some animals are considered family and others supper.
"It's a message the public is ready to hear now," said Twyla Francois with Mercy for Animals Canada. The non-profit organization trying to prevent cruelty to farmed animals launched a transit-ad campaign on buses in major Canadian cities including Winnipeg.
One ad shows a puppy beside a piglet with the caption "Why love one but eat the other?" In another ad, an adorable kitten is next to a fluffy chick. A friendly Lab is paired with a cute little cow. Next to the heartwarming critter images are horrific photos of conditions on factory farms, with animals crammed by the thousands into filthy, windowless sheds, battery cages, gestation crates and other confinement systems.
The campaign is a bid to get people to make the connection between pets and their meat.
"People are considering domestic animals in a way they never have before," said Francois. They treat their pets as children and connect more closely with animals in general, she said.
"They do understand pigs, cows and chickens are just as self-aware as dogs and cats." She cited Cambridge University's "declaration of consciousness" that said animals are as conscious and aware as humans. Mercy for Animals Canada developed the chooseveg.ca website with tips on how to move toward making "more humane" food choices, said Francois, who has made pets of food animals who avoided slaughter.
A few years back, a semi flipped over and a load of hogs ended up next to the highway.
"I rescued a pig named Wilbur off the side of the road after a trailer crash," she said. "He was very cool and incredibly smart." She took Wilbur to her acreage near Winnipeg.
"He was friendly and engaging. We had two horses and a dog and he'd run with them," Francois fondly recalled. "He won the hearts of everyone who met him."
The 600-pound porker was adopted by people with a farm and another pig who's become Wilbur's best friend. "They're going to keep him for life."
She's also rescued chickens and turkeys with emotions and cognitive ability above cats, dogs and some primates, she said. When one of the chickens died, the other chicken mourned her loss. "She'd stand at the top of the stairs and wait for her companion to return," she said.
"The turkeys were really my favourite," Francois said. "They're incredibly sensitive."
The ad campaign isn't trying to stamp out factory farms but get them to switch to something more sustainable than animals, she said.
"The UN says raising animals for food is contributing more to global greenhouse gases than all the world's trucks and cars combined."
There are proven health benefits to people and the planet in eating less meat, said Francois.
The spokesman for Manitoba's pig producers said consumers will choose what to eat.
"We live in a democracy," said Andrew Dickson, general manager of the Manitoba Pork Council. "People can make lifestyle choices about what they want to eat."
If they want to go vegan, they should check with their doctor first, he said. "As human beings, we're omnivores," with diets that include grains, vegetables and meat.