Scientists say they’ve translated pig grunts into emotions for the first time, in a possible breakthrough for monitoring animal wellbeing.
Researchers trained an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm with 7,414 recordings of pig noises, collected throughout the life phases of 411 pigs, including slaughter.
The algorithm could potentially be used to create an app for pig farmers that see whether the animals are happy just from the noise they’re making.
The research was led by the University of Copenhagen, the ETH Zurich and France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE).
Study author Dr Elodie Briefer at the University of Copenhagen said that they’ve taught the algorithm to decode pig grunts. Now they need someone who wants to develop the algorithm into an app that farmers can use to improve the welfare of their animals.
Researchers say the algorithm can decode whether a particular pig is experiencing a positive emotion (happy or excited), a negative one (scared or stressed) or somewhere in between.
The recordings were gathered from both commercial and experimental scenarios, either associated with positive or negative emotion, from birth until death.
Positive situations include, for instance, those when piglets nurse from their mothers or when they’re united with their family after being separated.
The emotionally negative situations included missed nursing, short social seclusion, piglet fights, piglet crushing by the mother, castration and handling and waiting in the slaughterhouse.
In experimental stables, the researchers also created different mock scenarios for the pigs, designed to produce more nuanced emotions in the centre of the spectrum.
These included an arena with toys or food and a corresponding arena without any stimuli.
The researchers also placed new and unfamiliar things in the arena for the pigs to interact with.
Along the way, the pig’s calls, behaviour and heart rates were monitored and recorded when possible.
The researchers then examined the audio recordings to determine the positive situations and emotions from the negative ones.
As already revealed in earlier research, there are more high-frequency calls from pigs such as screams and squeals in negative situations.
At the same time, low-frequency calls such as barks and grunts occurred both in cases where the pigs experienced positive or negative emotions.
With an even more detailed study of the sound files, the team found a new pattern that revealed what the pigs experienced in specific situations in even greater detail.
I would guess that translating these cries at the abattoir would surely send chills down your spine, but then I suppose you have to harden your heart because you can’t let your feelings get between us and the bacon you’re eating, but then hardening your heart to the natural world and the animal’s plight keeps you blinkered and morally primitive.
Can you picture driving up alongside a pig transportation lorry, looking at the pigs with their little snouts sticking out, not knowing they were going to their impending death, quite distasteful when you think about it?
Although they probably know that something bad is going to happen to them because animals only feel fear in the moment because they have no sense of tomorrow.
We should really consider this as we later cook pork chops for our tea!
And God help those scientists that translate the squealing those poor animals emit at the slaughterhouses just before they’re killed, it certainly won’t be fit for publication, and I certainly don’t think that being a farmer being able to talk to pigs would make slaughtering any easier, especially if you were telling them to be quiet before they were killed.