Cows That Feel No Pain

There’s talk of genetically altering cows to feel no pain:

Philosopher Adam Shriver suggested that genetically engineering cows to feel no pain could be an acceptable alternative to eliminating factory farming in a paper published in Neuroscience. Work by neuroscientist Zhou-Feng Chen at Washington University may turn Shriver’s suggestion a reality. Chen has been working on identifying the genes that control “affective” pain, the unpleasantness part of a painful sensation.

Let’s leave aside the many health issues that arise from factory farming, and focus purely on the ethical impact of altering cows so we may slaughter them more effectively. The first and most obvious question is, do you think this is humane or inhumane?

Now let’s imagine the implications. What if this affects the taste? Perhaps cows experiencing pain increases the tastiness of the meat. In that case, this sort of engineering opens the door to cows engineered specifically to feel more pain. Then there is the function of pain to be considered. Cows unable to feel pain could injure themselves to the point of accidental death.

Why stop with pain? Why not engineer animals with minimal brain tissue, so that they are not even conscious? How about engineering animals whose bodies release endorphins in a way that encourages lack of movement, and makes behavior most conducive to mass farming seem desirable? Or engineering flavors into cows, so their meat comes with a particular flavor built in from birth?

That this is even being considered should give us grave pause, and occasion us to give more than a cursory glance to the ethical price of our eating habits.

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