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
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.
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.
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.