With “hormone-free”, “cage-free” and “antibiotic-free” becoming common labels on our supermarket shelves, might “pain-free” be the next sticker slapped onto a rump roast?
As unlikely as that may seem, progress in neuroscience and genetics in recent years makes it a very real possibility. In fact, according to one philosopher, we have an ethical duty to consider the option.
“If we can’t do away with factory farming, we should at least take steps to minimise the amount of suffering that is caused,” says Adam Shriver, a philosopher at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. In a provocative paper published this month, Shriver contends that genetically engineered pain-free animals are the most acceptable alternative. “I’m offering a solution where you could still eat meat but avoid animal suffering.”
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.
Progress in understanding and manipulating the molecular and genetic bases for pain means ethics and economics, not technical feasibility, may end up determining whether Shriver’s proposal becomes a reality.
For instance, mice lacking a gene called Nav1.7 are less sensitive than normal rodents to heat and pressure. By similarly blocking the sensation of pain in livestock, practices like debeaking would potentially be “much more humane”, says Shriver.
One objection to the idea of knocking out pain in livestock is that it could mean they put themselves in harm’s way. In 2006, researchers identified six children from three Pakistani families with mutations that inactivated one particular gene. None of the children had ever felt pain, though they appeared otherwise healthy. All the kids had bruises and cuts, and one, who was known to place knives through his hand and walk on coals, died after jumping off a roof.
NO, just no, we are not going to make pain-free livestock that’s the most retarded idea ever.
Just do a world wide campaign to make people eat more greens and less meat and do away with the factory farms because that shit is nasty.
People need to eat less meat anyway so teach them they to eat more greens.