Ewen Callaway, New Scientist: 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 (Neuroethics, DOI: 10.1007/s12152-009-9048-6). “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.