• 09.08.2009

    Saw an interesting story in New Scientist today. Evidently, scientists may have determined a way to genetically alter animals to no longer experience pain. The question raised in the article is what implications this may have on livestock animals.

    The argument is made that if cattle, for example, are no longer able to feel pain, perhaps there will be less ethical delimas related to factory-farming practices. (Think your meat purchases come from smaller farmers? “In the U.S., four companies produce 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs and 50 percent of chickens.”) I would argue that even though one could eliminate the ability for an animal to feel pain, it does not mean that the animal should be treated in an inhumane way. This solution also does not address the significant impact factory farming has on the environment.

    For some reason, we people tend to ignore pain and suffering by any organism that cannot speak for itself. Abortions are conducted where the only voice acknowledged is the voice of the mother; yet we know that a fetus can feel pain at least by 20 weeks. Even if you don’t buy the abortion argument, circumcision is something performed on infant males widely throughout the United States. However, rarely is any pain management used with infants due to the concerns this may have on development. Yet the idea of an adult male being circumcised without managing the pain seems torturous. Tests have been conducted to objectively measure a baby’s response to circumcision verses other early medical procedures. These tests indicate that infants do indeed feel a significant level of pain during this procedure. We debeak chickens and we cut the tails off of dogs, sheep, and other animals. We declaw cats. I’m sure there are other examples. Yet, we only perform these actions on animals/infants that cannot speak to the pain they are in.

    Perhaps I am going off on a tangent. And, true, one could argue that genetically altering the livestock to feel less pain would take away some of the complaints. However, one must also consider the drawbacks. First, and foremost, how will not feeling pain affect an animal’s natural ability to learn from and avoid dangerous situations? Will there be pigs chewing their own legs out of boredom and no pain signals to tell them to stop? Will cows run through barbed wire without concern for being cut? There is actually a precedent. A family had six children who could not feel pain. A blessing in disguise? Not so. When the story was run, they had multiple injuries and one had accidentally killed himself by jumping from a roof. A real question that must be considered is, “what are the ramifications from such a genetic mutation?” Also, “what effect will this have on the human consumers of this mutated meat?”

    Perhaps this idea of removing pain from animals will be a non-starter. I hope so. But it completely falls in line with other solutions the agricultural industry has created to address problems with factory-farming:

    • Problem: Consumption of meat has increased dramatically with less available land and people raising animals.
    • Solution: Crowd animals into small cages and process and butcher them as quickly as possible.
    • Problem: Due to crowding, chickens are more aggressive and cannibalistic.
    • Solution: Debeak the chickens to reduce mortality and damage to other birds.
    • Problem: Piglets suck milk from the mother far too long before fattening them up for slaughter, affecting bottom line.
    • Solution: Remove piglets from mother sooner and begin feeding solid food to increase growth.
    • Problem: Pigs suck and chew on tails of other pigs because they were removed from sucking on the mother too soon.
    • Solution Dock the tails of the pigs to keep them from chewing on each other.
    • Problem: Animals are becoming sick due to the overcrowding.
    • Solution: Pump them full of antibiotics.

    So, the new problem and solution: Animals are experiencing discomfort and pain due to overcrowding, lack of effective care, and lack of supervision of slaughtering procedures. Solution? Genetically alter them to not experience pain!

    Posted by Josh @ 12:34 pm

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