02 September 2011

Cruelty-Free Meat or Cheat?

Estasi di S Teresa - Ecstasy of S Teresa
After my last post got scooped, besides thanking my stars that I have civil readers, I decided to raise the bar with another facet of the story.  I must caution, things are about to get all Buddhist up in here.

Ok, assuming you eat meat, would it make a difference if the animal did not suffer?  The market for free-range meat products, often at a premium, indicates that many people think so.  How about if the animal is from a factory farm, yet led a pain-free existence?  Sounds like a contradiction, but it does not have to be.  That is, if the animal was incapable of feeling pain. 

According to an op-ed by a philosophy-neuroscience-psychology PhD student at Washington University in St. Louis, eliminating the sensation of pain is the least we can do for those we sacrifice for the dinner plate.  I do not agree.  I think the least we could do is to go vegan, but hey that's me.

The author notes several ways to eliminate pain (yet not my idea), the first is "by damaging a laboratory rat’s anterior cingulate cortex, or by injecting the rat with morphine, [this will] block its affective perception of pain."  Some may think it trite, but when making an ethical choice about another, it helps to compare the choice to one involving oneself or one's own kind.  If the answers are different, one should explore why.  In this case, would it be ethical for me to beat up a person high on morphine or with a damaged anterior cingulate cortex?  Even if in the latter case they were more likely to be Republican?  I'd say no.  Plus we all know Kick Ass is a good guy.

Later in the article is mentioned the research of Min Zhou at University of Toronto and that of  Zhou-Feng Chen also at WUSTL.  Neither of which illustrate more than a step towards a freedom from pain, as they mention the animal feeling pain but not reacting the same.  I don't see how anyone would find this as an improvement, except for factory farmers who want docile and more manageable animals.  I suppose the pain could be registering but not feel bad, but that doesn't seem much better.

I think we need to analyze the aspects of pain and suffering.  Pain stems from some kind of damage to an organism.  The damage triggers signals which send a message to the brain that damage has occurred.  Often receipt of the message causes additional 'damage.'  I'll go through this backwards, from the recipient to the source.

To use an analogy, someone steals money from your bank account, the bank sends you an email, you read it, then you feel bad.  Ideally, we should eliminate all the aspects at the source:  No theft.  If the money is stolen, damage is still done whether the theft is noticed or not.

Let's say an animal is changed so they, like a Terminator, receive the pain message and sense it but do not 'feel' it.  The damage is done, and the money is gone.  They may act less emotionally, and perhaps do not suffer, but I don't think the argument could be made that it is cruelty free.

If you simply must steal the money (which you do not), is stopping the message from being sent or received better? Is no news good news?  The damage is still done, and perhaps it's worse to act like nothing happened.  Pain has a purpose.  If your wing is hurt, and you feel the pain, you can try to favor the other side and protect the sensitive area so it can heal.  If you didn't know you had an injury, and kept bumping it, it would get worse and fester.  Your quality of life would lessen, perhaps severely.

I remember a heated debate within my college's animal rights group about direct action and violence.  Some thought that destroying inanimate objects like a lab, was non-violent if no animals were harmed.  Others thought blowing something up was inherently violent.  I suppose a similar argument could be made concerning unfelt or pain-free harm done to an animal.

Also, one should consider the issue of consent.  If a being is suffering, and one can eliminate the suffering, typically that does not require consent unless the subject is a Christian Scientist.  If however, the situation involves alleviating pain that one is causing and will continue to cause intentionally, I would think this would need some kind of agreement.  Would you want any of these permanent changes made to you so not feel/sense pain/suffering?


  1. This is the problem with equating pain to suffering. Pain is only one form of suffering, and as you explain, it is a symptom of other types of suffering. Suffering can also mean loss, especially the loss of individual sovereignty. It's ridiculous that people would think that eliminating pain makes it okay to treat animals like inanimate objects.

  2. It's just depressing that anyone out there is - as it seems - rather considering to finance someone who would engineer painfree animals than invest just a tiny bit into interesting new vegan alternatives in food industry. Strange, strange.


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