Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ethical Question of the Day

Biotechnology and genetic engineering have created ethical dilemmas that previous generations never imagined.

As an omnivore, I'm mildly concerned about whether or not the animals that I eat are raised and slaughtered in a way that minimizes their suffering.

Now let's say that scientists create livestock that are incapable of feeling physical pain:

In 2006, researchers found six Pakistani children who felt no pain due to an inactivated gene, and who constantly had bruises and cuts. One fell into the habit of putting knives through his hand and walking barefoot on coals, before his untimely death.

Still, scientists already know that humans can intellectually dissociate the sensation of pain from how much it bothers them. Lab experiments with mice have also suggested a way to disconnect that pain sensation without totally leaving animals vulnerable to a world of hurt.

All of which leads Jeremy Hsu to ask the question:

Is it ethical to engineeer delicious cows that feel no pain?

How do you respond?


jockeystreet said...

1. Physical suffering is only part of the problem I have with factory farmed meat. There's cruelty in the fact that animals can't stand up, turn around, stretch their limbs, have their calves taken away, etc, for months or years before slaughter. So I'd say that reducing physical pain is great... but the psychological pain is still there, and maybe is worse, because I would imagine if there's no physical pain, you might have some animals that go a little crazy (like "Darkman").

2. I'd be opposed to eating meat from those animals, aside from the psychological suffering, because I'd be more than a little disturbed with the lengths we'd be going to to manipulate nature. It just seems a little creepy and well... unnatural. Sure, you argue, but a Twinkie is also creepy and unnatural. To which I answer, I don't eat Twinkies either.

bob said...

With little knowledge of farm animals(cows and pigs) I wonder if they are cognizant of what freedom thier missing. If the animals are unaware maybe the physical suffering is all they can know.

doodlebugmom said...

can they engineer a neck for me that feels no pain??

wrf3 said...

Part of what makes us human, I think, is our ability to empathize. This article claims that "the art of polite disagreement" is being killed by the internet; presumably by its anonymity. It's harder to empathize with people with whom we have no physical connection. I suspect it will be the same with animals that cannot feel pain. It will deaden us a little more.

jockeystreet said...

Bob, there is an awful lot of research out there (and just simple common experience) that says that yes, animals are very much cognizant of this stuff. In fact, the farm industry is very much aware of the emotional stress that animals are going through... the whole purpose of "debeaking" chickens is to keep birds that are under extreme psychological duress from tearing each other to pieces. Pigs go through "tail docking" for the same reason. Farmed animals show bizarre behaviors in this sort of confinement that they would never show in a more natural and humane setting.

Along with that, I would note that psychologists have used animals in studies for years and years and years, in an effort to understand the emotional psychological lives and needs of human beings. If there was not something at least similar in the internal lives of pigs and people, then studying pigs would be an entirely useless thing, wouldn't it?

It would seem to me a wild leap of faith to choose to believe that the cow that is moaning and kicking and lying on the floor for days after her calf is taken away isn't grieving the loss of her offspring, or to believe that the chicken banging itself bloody against the bars of its battery cage isn't frustrated with its confinement.

Having said that... I don't preach this so that people will go vegan (I think it would be neat if they did), but so that people will at least think about where there food comes from, and try to choose more humane options when possible. Raising animals for food doesn't have to entail extremes of cruelty. It often does, but it doesn't hav to.