By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Food
A provocative paper published this month argues for artificially reducing the suffering of livestock by engineering animals that lack the ability to sense pain.
Ethical treatment of farm animals has been a growing topic of concern ever since author Eric Schlosser wrote the shocking exposé Fast Food Nation in 2001.
Now, a provocative paper published this month in the journal Neuroethics argues for artificially reducing the suffering of livestock by engineering animals that lack the ability to sense pain.
In humans, there have been a few documented cases of people who have Hereditary Sensory Autonomic Neuropathy, a disorder in which the afflicted feels little to no pain.
But it's far more dangerous than it sounds, since a person with the disorder can't feel his or her own physical limits. That means they're often covered in bruises and cuts, may not be able to regulate body temperature and could easily accidentally kill themselves.
Now, scientists argue whether "pain-free" can join "free-range" and "hormone-free" when it comes to livestock.
The New Scientist details a bleak picture for livestock in factory farms:
Humans consume nearly 300 million tonnes of meat each year. Our appetite for flesh has risen by 50 per cent since the 1960s, and the trend looks set to continue. Most of this will likely come from factory farms, notorious for cramped quarters and ill treatment of animals. Battery farm chickens, for instance, routinely have part of their beaks removed without anaesthetic or pain relief to prevent them from pecking their neighbours.
The paper's solution is to reduce animal suffering in factory farming operations by genetically engineering livestock with a reduced or eliminated capacity to suffer.
Of course, that doesn't mean consumers will actually buy the product: despite FDA approval, few consumers are willing to buy meat they know is cloned or genetically-engineered.
The science behind the concept is a bit more nuanced.
Research indicates that the sensation of pain is distinct from the unpleasant feeling -- called "affective pain" -- connected to it, suggesting it might be possible to preserve "pain" while eliminating "suffering."
In the hopes of placating chronic itching, Zhou-Feng Chen, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis, has identified the genes that regulate affective pain. Chen and his colleagues engineered mice that lack enzymes that help neuron-to-neuron communication in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain thought to play a role in autonomous behavior.
When the team injected a toxic, irritating chemical into the paws of test mice, the animals licked them briefly. In contrast, normal mice continued to do so for hours -- suggesting that livestock can be spared suffering but feel the initial sensation of pain.
Sep 4, 2009
No, never, this is just sick. Who thinks this stuff up ? Just eat less meat, or none at all, there's no need to eat meat. If you do eat meat, buy "free-range". Don't forget all the environmental aspect of all this animal rearing - water usage, land usage, pollution, global warming, the list goes on ....
I grew up on a farm, and physical pain is only part of the problem. Animals raised in confinement are subject to stress, which is quite a bit different than pain. You might, for example, think a human who cannot feel pain is impervious to torture. But the truth is that waterboarding will work just as well on them as anybody else, since the drowning panic response is still there. Similarly, animals in crowded conditions still will feel stress even when they don't feel pain, and this can be considered an ethical violation just as much as anything else.
Raising meat has an impact on our environment. Even if you solve animal pain, our environment and ecology as a whole, which also can not exhibit signs of pain will continue to suffer. We must not promote meat as a primary source of protein in every meal.
I would have to agree with Grasshopper on the fact that much harm could come to the treated animal, My other concern is for the people that don't care about eating treated animals, or for financial considerations would buy the treated animal if it is sold at a lesser price than other offerings on the shelf as food, thereby possibly introducing into thier systems the chemicals or proteins that could harm them or thier offspring (FDA approved or not. Just look at some of the prescription drugs that they have approved that has caused illness or untimely death.).
I can see it now.... Somewhere down a lone highway a cow is loose on the road using cars, trucks, and a school bus as a battling ram. Meanwhile the owner can't be found, cops called, and no one dares to leave a car, etc. This idea is so dumb. Instead of causing pain, lets treat them humane. Get rid of the abusers. I am sure we are still using a lot of the old laws for livestock. Create newer ones, and stop dumbing down our livestock. One day all of this crap will come back to haunt you, or our ancestors. in either case, one day someone will wish to be back at this time just so they could kick your a... for coming up with this idea. Your right also, I would not eat that livestock.
i dont have a problem with this at all. no, the cows will not cut themselves up on barbed wire, bang their brains out, etc. because they would be able to feel the initial pain. this is a bad article title; it should be titled "Is it ethical to engineer livestock that cannot suffer?" you are right, they should be able to feel pain to keep from hurting themselves, but removing that isnt what is going to happen. reread the article.
The more probable meat of the future will bypass the animal itself and we will simply grow slabs of meat in factory laboratories from animal stem cells. At the molecular level it will be exactly the same as meat from a once living cow, but at the same time will be cheaper to produce, no more harmful than regular meat, and will appease animal rights activists.
I concur that engineering livestock not to feel pain is a very stupid idea. Without any sense of pain they would not at all be manageable and even a cattle prod would not work. Without pain or fear of pain there would be cattle running into barbed wire or cars and not at all remotely giving it a thought. Is it ethical... no, it is insanity gone berserk!
Painless livestock is about the stupidest idea since Eye Protectors for Chickens to keep them from pecking each other's eyes out. (U.S. Patent No. 730,918, issued June 16, 1903)
I'm in full agreement with grasshopper. It's really a stupid idea. I was raised on a dairy farm. occasionally we would have a calf born without the ability to feel pain. Probably the result of inbreeding. No matter how careful you were, with "registered" animals, you have a relatively small gene pool. Inevitability you would have parents so closely related you would have a calf born minus some of his natural abilities. The ones without the ability to feel pain seldom lived to adulthood. They would manage to bang their brains out some way. This is supposed to be more humane???
it is always amusing to see "reducing pain" described as unethical..it is even more amusing when people's solutions to these problems always reduce to having there be fewer people having access to resources. and btw.. the fda says nothing about cloned meat tc... it is the usda... http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/blogs/healthy-food/marion-nestle-cloned-animals-45011808 and "new scientist" needs to learn econ...the number of human mouths on the planet since the 60's has doubled...and the active market for mat per person (not latent market) has increased 50%. the appetite wasn't measured at all.
This is a horrifying thought and I would never even think to support the twisted people who came up with this. I truly hope that they show the same ethics as those who replied to this article when it comes down to actually doing. Why isn't free-range and hormone-free enough? We all need to think about what we're eating and definitely cut back on the meat. This is getting disgusting.
Better to follow Michael Pollan's recommendation to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". And let's not turn thisinto a discussion of whether plants feel pain.
Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should do it. I find this idea of engineering livestock to feel no pain DEEPLY disturbing. It's a Pandora's Box that leads to so many scary possibilities: engineering livestock to mature in weeks rather than months or years; engineering livestock with extra limbs to accommodate high demand for flank steak or drumsticks; engineer livestock with no sight or sound capabilities, to insulate humans from the unpleasant task of slaughtering, and on and on. Here's a novel idea: since the planet is currently overpopulated to the point where we are no longer sustainable, let's just maintain the current levels of food production, which will eventually reduce the poplulation and begin to restore a small balance. More is NOT better.
an interesting comment http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7357/
And I'm not even sure that a chicken has nerves in it's beak, but the only reason to cut the beaks is because they raise them too close together. If you want chickens treated better, then vote with your wallet and buy free range. The chicken has a better life, and eats better food that includes insects, and you don't have to cut their beaks.
It's not only unethical, it's plain stupid. Lifestock that feel no pain will tear themselves up on wire fences, and walk right through electric fences. Farmers will be forced to feed them anti-biotics to keep them from dying from random infections. Let them live as peaceful a life as a grazing herd animal can, as complete as "The Great Mystery" designed them, whether you think that is God, or Mother Nature, because either one can make a better cow than the smartest scientist in the world. Think I'm wrong? Try asking a scientist to make a cow from scratch.