8/24/10

Brave New Animal

I'm writing a talk that I'll be giving later in the month--"Brave New Animal: Advancing Ethics through Technology." I'll be talking about various new technologies that could (but do they?) reduce the ethical price tag of meat (metaphor borrowed from Michael Pollan).  I have in mind four innovations that are either with us now or on the horizon--
  1. Meat without killing:  vat meat, as discussed here.  Also may help feed over-populated word, as this article suggests.
  2. Genetically engineering cattle that have kangaroo digestive systems, to reduce carbon emissions produced by their belching--see here.
  3. Genetically engineering pain-free livestock--as discussed by Adam Shriver here.
  4. Producing all-female dairies using semen-sorting--see here.
I'm looking for other examples of ethical advances--allegedly, anyway--that involve altering animals themselves (or their patterns of behavior--as in 4).  Got any for me?

10 comments:

Rhys said...

Maybe you could genetically engineer animals to have a very short lifespan, so they would never have to see a slaughterhouse. Around a certain time (like one or two years of life, but it would depend on the kind of animal and how much time it needs to get big enough) they just drop dead. If the death was immediate and painless, without agony leading up to it, it would be hard (for me at least) to see the problem with this.

But these other options seem to have basis in reality. I have no idea if this one is possible.

Rhys said...

I guess a problem with this is that animals that die of "natural causes" are generally not considered suitable for eating. So whatever causes the death would have to not taint the quality of the meat, and there would have to be an easy way to make sure that the short life span is what killed the animal, not a disease. Still, there are probably laws that would make selling such meat impossible.

Aeolus said...

If you haven't done so already, you should have a look at Bernard Rollin's The Frankenstein Syndrome: Ethical and Social Issues in the Genetic Engineering of Animals (Cambridge University Press, 1995). Rollin proposes what he calls the principle of conservation of welfare, which says that any animal that is genetically engineered to serve human purposes or for environmental benefit should be no worse off in terms of suffering, and preferably should be better off, after the new traits are introduced than the parent stock was. Rollin is not bothered by alteration of a species' "telos" (the expression of basic genetic nature), but some people are.

On a tangent: Here's an interesting interview with Victoria Braithwaite on the question of whether fish feel pain:
http://www.cbc.ca/books/MT/2010/06/do-fish-feel-pain-dr-victoria-braithwaite-discusses-audio.html

Jean Kazez said...

Thanks all.

I hadn't seen Rollin's book--great, I'll definitely look. My initial reaction: that sounds like an extremely sensible position.

Thanks for the tangent too--her research is interesting.

Lukeroelofs said...

The Shriver link about knocking out pain is really interesting - I'd often thought there were these two dimensions of pain, so it's nice to see them empirically dissociated.

Dominic said...

There has been a bit of analysis about blind chickens and whether they would be less adversely affected by overcrowding.
http://www.springerlink.com/content/g042l03721237110/

Other more speculative possibilities:
along Rhys' line you could have animals that are engineered to live for a short lifespan and a painlessly killed a short time before they were due to die anyway.
(If the harm of death is that it deprives an animal of future life, then the harm for the animal may be very little).

Or here is another possibility. Animals could be engineered to make it possible for them to be killed painlessly. I am not sure how it would be done, but one example would be if they had a genetic susceptibility to a normally harmless medication. When they had reached a particular age the drug could be introduced into their food and they would keel over from an arrhythmia.

none of these I like particularly, but they get to some of the essence of the enhancement/disenhancement questions.

Dom

Dominic said...

this might also be relevant
http://food-ethics.com/2010/08/23/the-ethics-of-healthy-bacon/

(not really affecting the ethical arguments for vegetarianism, but possibly some other ones)

Anonymous said...

@Rhys: would it be ok to engineer human beings that die naturally and painlessly at age 20 in order to provide us with healthy organs for transplants?

Joseph Chun said...

Does virtue ethics not advocate respect for animals. Is it really more ethical to genetically engineer away the pain and the lifespan o9f animals to serve human wants (not even needs)?

Rhys said...

@Jean: Here's another one related to the environmental issues, which I saw on Vegan.com... an oregano oil supplement reduces methane emissions from a cow by 40%:

http://www.livescience.com/animals/cows-belch-methane-greenhouse-gas-supplement-100908.html

@Anonymous: You're assuming I'm not a speciesist.