An editorial published last week in The New York Times has infuriated both abolitionist animals rights activists and more mainstream animal welfare advocates. The article purports that we can genetically manipulate pigs and cows raised for food so that they can no longer experience physical pain, as has been done with lab rats and mice. Allegedly, this would allow us to exploit and kill animals for food with clear consciences.
From an animal rights perspective, this would involve a host of completely unethical practices- manipulating entire populations of animals to misinterpret their pain, conducting more tests on “laboratory” animals, harming animals’ brains so that we can “guiltlessly” harm their bodies- all to kill sentient animals, instead of reducing the number of farmed animals slaughtered. Furthermore, going through with this would rely on the faulty premise that physical pain is the only type of suffering experienced by animals.
But we need only look at the cats and dogs we call our companions to know that this isn’t true. When I was a child, our family dog, Ruffy, would cry for days on end while I was at summer camp. Every day for a week he would whine excitedly when any car drove down the street, or when my dad left the house for any errand, and he would cry when I didn’t return. This same dog also had his tail partially severed in the back door of our house, and cried for less than an hour afterward. If, as the article claims, all mammals have essentially the same capacities for suffering, then it follows that cows and pigs are just as likely as Ruffy to experience emotional suffering at a greater level than that at which they experience physical pain.
The attempt to create animals who are void of pain does indicate success by animal advocates in raising awareness of farmed animal suffering. But it is equally telling of our shortcomings- specifically, our failure to demonstrate animals to be feeling beings who have intrinsic worth, and who have unique desires and needs. The animal welfare movement’s insistence on fighting factory farming and framing these issues as ones of animals’ pain, not animals’ own value, has created a backlash by exploiting industries where they continue to “fix” symptoms. Even welfare advocates who oppose this scientific “progress” have failed to get to the root of the problem: our society’s wholesale acceptance of animal murder.
If one is not convinced that animals experience emotional pain, they need only watch the following short (and not graphic) video, appropriately entitled “I am Scared and Don’t Want to Die.” As long as animals still have ears, eyes, and noses, they will be able to sense death, and they will fight to avoid it. We must aid them in this fight.