Letters on Shriver

I think the letter-writers below are guilty of wishful thinking, while Adam Shriver is admirably realistic.  On all plausible estimates, there will still be a huge amount of factory farming in the foreseeable future.  To deny this is to to confuse what will be with what should be.   When we're not realistic, we do animals a disservice.    So--Shriver's thinking about the future in the right way (without wearing rosy "vegan education" or "Righteous Porkchop" colored glasses). I just think he may not be thinking about pain in the right way--but that's a very difficult question, and he certainly has an interesting argument.

To the Editor:
Adam Shriver’s Op-Ed article arguing for genetic engineering of farm animals to reduce their perception of pain (“Not Grass-Fed, but at Least Pain-Free,” Feb. 19) was a bone-chilling read.
Industrial confinement systems, especially the constricting crates and cages used on veal calves, sows and egg-laying hens, keep animals in conditions that could lead to criminal prosecution if used for cats or dogs.
Just as a consensus is emerging among Americans that we must greatly improve such cruel conditions, Mr. Shriver is arguing that we should instead focus on the ability to feel pain.
If his recommendations were pursued, we shudder to think of the barbaric treatment that would become acceptable in the industrial livestock sector.
Nicolette Hahn Niman
Bill Niman
Bolinas, Calif., Feb. 22, 2010
The writers are cattle and turkey ranchers. Ms. Niman is the author of “Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.”

To the Editor:
It would be comforting to think that “Not Grass-Fed, but at Least Pain-Free” is an attempt at satire in the Jonathan Swift vein. Alas, Adam Shriver is clearly in the camp of “science solves everything,” even our vague stirrings of conscience over the suffering of animals we cause.
His argument that we can all feel better about stuffing animal parts into our mouths if the animals have been deprived of their ability to register pain as “unpleasant” is appalling. He writes that “we are most likely stuck with factory farms.” To the contrary, there is plenty we can do as consumers to bring down the factory farm, which makes no sense in terms of livestock management or consumer preference or safeguarding consumer health. We can eat only locally, humanely produced meat or give up animal products entirely.
Elizabeth Dyck
Bainbridge, N.Y., Feb. 20, 2010
The writer works for an organic farming organization.

To the Editor:
Given that our current system for producing meat inflicts pain on animals, the sensible response is to change the system, not the animals.
Adapting food animals to an admittedly cruel system is a poor use of advanced scientific knowledge, especially since we are not “stuck” with the confined animal feed operations, or CAFOs, that dominate our current system.
Smart pasture operations raise cows on pasture, which is what they are built to eat. The same pasture operations that make for contented cows also protect air and water quality, sequester heat-trapping carbon and don’t undercut the efficacy of valuable human antibiotics. Eventually the price differential between CAFO and grass-fed cows will decrease as pasture-intensive operations scale up.
Instead of engineering animals to adapt to pain, we should focus on moving now toward food production systems that are good for people, food animals and the environment.
Mardi Mellon
Director, Food and Environment
Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Washington, Feb. 19, 2010

To the Editor:
Adam Shriver applauds the possibility that we may soon be able to reduce the discomfort of the animals we choose to raise in the horrific warehouses of factory farms through neuroscience. I’d like to propose an alternative: that we consider using neuroscience and genetic engineering to modify humans so that they derive less pleasure from consuming large amounts of animal flesh and more pleasure from consuming things like tofu.
Another option, of course, is that we leave both humans and animals unmodified and instead encourage the humans to use their superior intelligence, freer wills and more developed moral sense to see how deeply repellent it is for humans to continue to devote so much energy to find new ways of exploiting animals so that they can have tasty morsels on their plates.
N. Ann Davis
Claremont, Calif., Feb. 19, 2010
The writer is a professor of human relations and philosophy at Pomona College.


Faust said...

As usual on this issue, I don't like most of the standard arguments on either side.

Most of the opponents to Shriver's position clearly do not accept the premise that such modification is possible. In the possible future that Shriver envisions, the reduction of pain in animals is assumed. It is not, as the responses would seem to indicate that "an illusion" of reduced suffering takes place, but that an actual and significant reduction of suffering takes place. Once can attack whether or not such a reduction is possible, or whether we have a sufficiently robust understanding of basic consciousness to know when we had achieved our desired goal. But clearly the goal is reduction of suffering. So if Shriver's vision came to pass, suffering would be eliminated or siginificantly mitigated by hypothesis. Again one can attack this as a possibility, but if such an opperation was successful, suffering would no longer be in the picture, or would be significantly reduced.

One can admit that such manipulation might be possible, but then argue we should not perform such manipulations because the manipulation itself is morally problematic. This is the route N. Ann Davis nods in the direction of, though she does it obliquely by suggesting that we perform the requisite manipulations on humans themselves, i.e. that we breed out our taste for meat. I think he/she intends this as reductio but either way that point is valid: if it's OK to manipulate the deep phenomenological capacities of animals, why is it not OK to do the same to humans? Is this not a good way to deal with the problem caused by the suffering of those that are poor (clearly the poor will be with us for the forseable future). Why not create Deltas and Epsilons? If they don't have the capacity to realize they could have been different, and if they don't suffer, what is the moral problem?

This is a bit of a reductio...except that I think it is in fact a likely outcome of our current trajectory. Certainly I think utilitarianism can provide no defense against it.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, it looks like a reductio. Her argument should make us feel ashamed of ourselves for wanting to fix animals, not ourselves (interesting alternative) but of course that suggestion doesn't pass the realism test. You feel ashamed, self righteous, you pound the table and say it's a terrible thing we do...and then the 10 billion animals per year go right on being treated the same as always.

We're going to be an animal eating culture for a long time to come. Best confront that, and do the best we can for animals.

Faust said...

"We're going to be an animal eating culture for a long time to come. Best confront that, and do the best we can for animals."

How about this:

"Capitalist systems inevitably produce inequalities that result in lower classes that have significant hardships. Best to confront that and start work to develop Deltas and Epsilons to do menial labor."

This seems like science fiction now (so does knockout meat quite frankly). But eventually it won't be, of that I am confident. We have entirely too much motivation to mess with our genetic code.

It is easy to see that a human devolved to an Epsilon is no longer human. Is a cow that feels no pain still a cow? Does it matter?

prasad said...

Isn't this some part of the way to lab-meat? And if that seems unobjectionable ethically, as I assume it does, should that help us view pain-free meat more favorably?

I thought the human slide was a red herring - we can anesthetize people AND animals before forcibly killing them now. The obvious wrongness of the first compared to the second surely has to do (to the extent that can be defended) with the greater capabilities and awareness of the human. Once we agree animals may be killed, what is the basis for insisting they may be kept comfortable in the interim with roomy lots, but not with insensitive nervous systems?