Would "pain-free" animals take suffering out of farming?

Washington University philosopher and vegetarian, Adam Shriver, in Neuroethics proposes that if society is unwilling to shift to a vegetarian diet then nonhuman animals should be genetically modified to fit our cognitive dissonance over eating them. Specifically, an argument is made that we could down a guilt-free slab of cow flesh if we just made sure the cow felt no pain. "NewScientist" recently published an article discussing the issue.

Pain is an integral aspect of human and nonhuman life. It is one way in which we relate and react to the world around us. But it is not the only way nor is it, in our view, the most important way.

Eliminating pain in farmed animals does not eliminate the horror of cutting a life short for a moment of gustatory pleasure. It does not address the rich, intricate social and emotional worlds of farmed animals. In fact, it further reduces them to simple, sensory beings who have no other moral worth than how much pain they feel.

Look at this picture of Summer and Freedom. This is a moment. This is a connection being made, a touch, togetherness. They are not reaching out to one another because of nociceptors or synapses, they are doing so because it is part of being bovine. It is who they are and how they relate to each other. Even if they could not feel pain, this moment would have occurred. They would still groom one another, frolick in the fields, seek out each other's companionship, call to one another. Nothing about who they are would change, so why would our perception magically shift from discomfort at ending their lives to a strange joy at comfortably being able to eat their flesh?

Or take Arturo and Cleo. Their lives are filled with a language we only vaguely understand. He is unwavering in his patience with Cleo and so many other hens. When faced with a new, young hen, he did not pick on her as so many of the other hens and roosters did but instead called her over for some of his food. He knows what camaraderie and sharing means, even if it is strictly from an avian perspective. Cleo revels in dust baths and sun bathes and cavorting with her friends. These behaviors and feelings do not cease because pain sensation stops. Their desire to retain their light, their life does not go away because pain is not experienced. They (and us) have so many enriching experiences that have little to do with physical hurt.

These are two small examples of how farmed animals are more than just pain reflexes. To think that by removing their natural, physical experience of pain means they stop feeling joy, stop talking with their kin, stop forming relationships, stop bickering, stop wanting to live is the height of arrogance on our part. It would not excuse their slaughter. The reality still remains - we do not need their flesh, milk or eggs to survive. We just do not. Let's stop trying to make it easier on our conscience to kill these animals and start directing that into positive energy, into doing something good for them and us - choosing a plant-based diet.


amberlopez said...

This whole idea of 'Making" pain free animals is the coldest, most uneducated idea I've ever heard. Are humans that far removed from their souls, from life itself to think that this is the only experience animals have? This is mere delusion.....
Very sad day, indeed.

Gary said...

In addition to your excellent, eloquently-stated points, do we really want to trust scientists or the animal agriculture industry to declare that an animal feels no pain? Both groups have a notorious record of grossly underestimating (or not seeing, or not wanting to see) animals' sentience and sensory experiences.