“Pain-Free” Meat?

Jennifer Church

Adam Shriver, a philosopher at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, published an article earlier this month in Neuroethics, contending that cows should be genetically engineered to be unable to feel pain.  Several news articles and blogs have discussed his idea, including Telegraph and Animal Law Online. Playing off of Peter Singer’s classic argument that animals can suffer and therefore humans have a duty to alleviate that suffering, Shriver asserts that humans have an ethical duty to produce these pain-free cows.   He seems to suggest that pain-free cows are guilt-free meat for humans.  Apparently, recent progress in neuroscience and genetic studies could make pain-free cows a real possibility in the near future.  Shriver points to the fact that factory farming and meat consumption has only continued to grow, with no decline foreseeable anytime soon.  If the continuation of factory farming is inevitable, the least we could do is make the cows more comfortable – seems to be his argument.

Pain-free cows may make factory farming slightly less unethical, however it certainly does not solve all of the major issues with it.  First of all, even in “pain-free” factory farming, the cow is still being bred solely to be killed for human consumption.  Secondly, these “pain-free” cows may not be able to feel physical pain, but what about the mental distress caused to the cows by cramming them into tiny spaces, not to mention the actual killing process?  The cows would still be in equally uncomfortable conditions.  The practical effects of having these genetically altered cows might very well be to force them to endure even worse conditions, since it wouldn’t “hurt” them anyway.   Even “pain-free” cows would suffer by not being able to just be cows.  Thirdly, since people might feel less guilty about eating meat, they might eat more of it, causing factory farming to increase exponentially.   Even with the invention of “pain-free” meat, factory farming would still be inhumane and unethical.  Who are we to genetically alter these animals for human benefit?

Putting animal ethics aside, there are additional problems with the “pain-free” cow.  Consumers have been mostly against genetically modified food, and the FDA has been wary to allow it into the market.   Most importantly, Shriver’s argument completely ignores the environmental disaster that is factory farming.  Factory farming pollutes our water and air, and contributes to climate change.  Anything that has the distinct possibility of increasing factory farming is not good for humans or animals.  To Shriver’s credit, he does admit that eliminating factory farms would be the best option, but is pessimistic about our society moving in that direction.

One Response

  1. […] week (admittedly, this thought did not occur to me when reading Jennifer Church’s earlier post on Shriver’s writings) .  Mr. Shriver opined that since factory farms are inevitable […]

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