Are Pain-Free Animals the Future of Meat?

By Allison Bond | September 3, 2009 6:38 pm

cowMeat may be tasty, but many people object to way that chickens, cows, and other animals are treated at so-called “factory farms,” which produce massive amounts of edible flesh. So could animals that have been genetically engineered to not feel pain (or at least not be bothered by the sensation) offer a solution to an ethical dilemma posed by these meat factories?

That’s what one philosopher asked in a paper published in the journal Neuroethics, concluding that we have an ethical duty to consider the option. “If we can’t do away with factory farming, we should at least take steps to minimise the amount of suffering that is caused” [New Scientist] by practices such as de-beaking chickens without anesthesia, says author Adam Shriver. But because pain serves as an important warning sign, these so-called “pain-free” animals would still be able to sense pain–they just wouldn’t be bothered by it. Researchers seek ways to eliminate the suffering caused by pain without tampering with the physical sensation [New Scientist].

Still, does pain-free meat really mean guilt-free? For example, large farms generate enormous amounts of waste and greenhouse gases and breed antibiotic resistance [New Scientist], says environmental health scientist Alan Goldberg. In any case, consumer opposition to the sale of meat from genetically engineered animals could preempt any attempt to try out pain-free animals.

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Image: flickr / JelleS

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain
  • Michael Burkley

    Pain free animals would be nice for our consciences but not so nice for the animals. Hansen’s disease (what used to be called Leprosy) is a disease that deadens nerves that carry pain sensations. The damage that patients acquire is caused by then doing things that damage themselves. I normally wouldn’t reach into boiling water to pull out a cooked potato. It would hurt! But a Hansen’s patient wouldn’t hurt so would not hesitate (except by taught intention) not to do so. Such “little” traumas end up with extensive damage – lost limbs, blindness, etc.

    People have tried to develop external sensors that would indicate to a patient that they were doing something dangerous (i.e., gloves that would sense excessive pressure and buzz when that limit approaches), but they proved ineffective. People just ignored the warning. It was the ol’ “Oh, that won’t hurt me” syndrome.

    Animals that wouldn’t be bothered by pain would simply not be bothered by any sensations that replaced the pain. They would chew on the barbed wire fence; they would get in a fight and not feel anything that would make them want to stop fighting…. You can get the picture.

    Alas, they would still experience death when we kill them for eating. I think that most people who object to eating animals would still object to that final pain.

    I eat meat, and I care for animals. If we are to eat them we need to be as careful of them as we can. I don’t think that particularly for the animals’ sake (though I think that important), but for the people who care for them. For when they don’t -care- for them people often become more calloused to all.


  • Lisa D

    Personally, I think this is a horrible idea. To begin with, as mentioned, consumers do not want genetically altered food. Secondly, I am a vegetarian because I am a huge animal lover and as the cliche goes “I don’t eat my friends.” Even if they were “pain-free,” I still wouldn’t eat them. If you’re going to eat meat try to buy from a local farm because factory farms are really just a big building of death and torture. It’s not right to treat animals with no respect just because they can’t speak up for themselves, regardless of if they feel pain or not. We all know that animals do feel pain just as we do and they are put through horrible, painful procedures while kept in captivity for their short lives. I just wish there was a way to end the whole factory farm business– that’s one way to ensure the animals less pain.

  • john649

    Why don’t we just clone humans who don’t like meat, then we wouldn’t have to worry about the ethics of abusing animals, solve the global warming problems from factory farms, let the animals live the life they were meant to have and make the scientists rich………..

  • robot makes music

    This still wont make up for the unsanitary conditions, the fact that they have to pump them full of prophylactic antibiotics to keep them from getting diseases as they’re forced to wallow in their own filth…

  • Bea Elliott

    The most logical and ethical thing one can do is to discontinue their use of animal products. A plant based diet is healthier, more sustainable, better for the environment, addresses world hunger, water shortages, etc.

    There are thousands of tasty and compassionate alternatives to flesh…

    Many attempt to do this in stages… Adopt a plant based diet for breakfast for a few weeks – Then add vegan lunches, for a month or so – Then dinner. Within 6 months you will have had time to research anything you feel you should know, and time to adapt shopping, cooking, etc.

    And “pain free” animals does nothing for the suffering of being ripped from your young, being unable to persue your natural habits, being frustrated by isolation and confinement. Surely when these issues start bothering a culture’s morals – it’s time to let the animal products go.

  • poopie

    Brings new meaning to GMO. There is a chapter in Fast Food Nation that talks about pig s___. Among other interesting fecal facts, you can smell pig s___ from a small plane when flying over a feedlot!

    I think bringing back the antibiotic reduced family farm is the best solution. You won’t have to cauterize beaks, waste will be minimized, Corperate welfare will be checked, diseases reduced, and bacon and eggs will be cheaper and tastier.

  • addicted to bad

    You try taking the cheese burger away.

  • Walter

    We evolved as omnivores. I think it is noble of some vegetarins to forgo meat for humane reasons. However, if you own new leather shoes, belt, purse, or furniture, don’t talk about your ethical objections. Shut it, and pass me the bacon.

  • kelley

    You don’t have to be vegetarian to protest animal suffering. The report claims that perhaps not enough people are willing to become vegetarian to put an end to factory farming – but perhaps enough people are willing to support a change in the way farm animals are raised and cared for to put an end to factory farming, and still be able to eat meat that comes from healthy sustanible farms.

    Addressing the physical pain of a farm animal is only addressing half of the “pain” – and only a small fraction of what’s wrong with factory farms. Mental suffering would not be reduced, nay, could even be increased by blocking pain sensations in animals that live in factory farm conditions. This should be considered just as closely as physical pain.

  • ricardo

    It would be far more easy and ethical to grow meat in the lab(in vitro meat). This is the only way to save the planet as traditional farming contributes huge amounts of carbon and methane to the environment. One day we will look back and be astounded that we actually grew animals to eat. A bit like how we look back at humans being sacrificied by ancient cultures. Many will disagree and resist as many probably did in human past whenever profound changes were made. Check out

  • Brian

    Terrible idea. Respect the animal, respect the food, respect ourselves. I think this idea does none of those things.

  • Paul Walters

    Envision an artificial placenta, red with hemoglobin on one side, chlorophyll on the other, the green side exchanging oxygen with the red side, with giant leaves floating on the surface of a man made broth pond, and slabs of insensate pink meat suspended in the broth, hanging like slabs of meat in a butcher shop, bobbing underwater, pendulous fruit attached by red artery stems to the red-green placental plant-animal interface. The meat would hang in clusters, and could be lopped off at intervals, new meat-fruits maturing continually, the proteins originating by fixation of nitrogen. The light from the sun would provide the energy to produce the sugars to feed the cells that produce the meat. It would probably have a fishy taste, faintly metallic from the artificial blood. I see it, perhaps in a time as remote from ours as ours is from George Washington’s.

  • Christina Viering

    Pain free animals won’t change a vegetarian into a meat eater. I think the idea is creepy.

  • Troy

    Life feeds on life… very unfortunate if you happen to be lower on the food chain, plant OR animal. The simpler solution here would be to stop de-beaking chickens while they are alive, etc. With all the ‘advances’ we humans have made, including considering genetically altering animals to not feel pain, we can’t simply make their lives a bit better on these production farms? I’m at a loss that such a problem requires genetic engineering to fix it.

  • Mike Mueller

    When we genetically modify plants and animals, we rapidly increase the loss of environmentally (or nature) mediated cultural experiences and knowledge. This knowledge has sustained some cultural communities for thousands of years and we should think about the potential trade-offs that GMOs endorse. In general, I don’t think people today are being educated to make decisions about these kinds of trade-offs within their local communities. Environment is deemphasized or ignored in schools because of high-stakes testing and the focus on comparing kids from different parts of the country and world. So all people see is the final product in the supermarket (and we take-for-granted our assumptions that influence how meat is supposed to look). We may not care much about how animals and plants are being treated or whether GM crops and animals are changing the ways in which we frame our relationships with the environment. I wonder whether it would even matter if videos of animals being slaughtered would even make much of a difference.

    A good analogy can be made with the rapid increase in digital communications, which has in many ways, deemphasized face-to-face conversations and reliance outside of the market. What human experiences are being lost that may be needed to afford future generations some similar environmental qualities of today? Perhaps tomorrow’s generations will not care about whether they have digital pets or the real thing, but we should not discount the qualities of experiences that are gained from having a farm animal as friend and food. Farm animals have just as much right as we do to feel or sense the experience of a friendship with humans.

    The idea of genetically modifying animals to not feel pain also opens the door for conversations about how to modify children in ways that are more culturally desirable (or driven by popular media), already taken up in this forum discussion.

  • Jules

    While I am a vegetarian, vegan actually so Walter up there who says not to talk to him about ethics- guess you didn’t realize that some of us actually did give up the leather clothing, accessories, etc. Of course, because I am a vegetarian, I would say to just give up the meat. However, I don’t believe this is practical.

    What I do think is practical is a combination of a few things: 1. The consumer should have all the power. If everyone stood up and said “I won’t buy your products because I disagree with what your company is doing” it would be in the best interest of the company to change to continue getting business and making a profit. So, if most people still wanted to eat meat but didn’t agree with factory farming, they could ban together, write letters to the company, stop purchasing their products while purchasing from more humane companies, until overall, the other companies realize they need to change their system (not searing beaks, providing more room, providing more sanitary places, etc.) or they’ll go broke. And from what it seems, they have plenty of money to make the changes- they’re just being greedy.

    2. We would have to have some way of knowing that they have changed. That whole addage about the glass walls and if we knew what we were eating, we wouldn’t anymore- well we would need the glass walls. I think a lot of people may feel mistrusting of companies who use such cruel efforts to save a penny. The consumers should have the right to know where their food is coming from. After all, this isn’t just a piece of furniture- it’s something we put inside of ourselves and has consequences to our bodies. This might have to involve more government- I don’t know but we have to have the right for the above to actually happen as well.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • People Eating Their Animals

    If one less beak here and there makes my chicken nuggets a nickel cheaper, then break out the soldering iron. Don’t even get me started on foi gras- I’ve spent a life time drinking copious amonts of whiskey and when I die, who will be there to eat my delicious liver? If a goose could talk, he would thank you.

    Party up, this buffet we call Earth is about to close shop. Savor the morsels left to us, and drop the guilt and piety- it interfers with digestion.

  • Dennis
  • sierra


  • David Lee Evans

    Great ideal!!, I thought that I would have to wait until I visit MilliWays, the restaurant at the end of the universe, before I could get genetically engineer meat. One Ameglian Major Cow steak for me please.
    This all sounds far more sensible then safe artificial soy meat products, which are healthier for you, environmentally safer and has a the prospect of being a tractable solution for feeding the increasing human world population.

  • Prem Das

    Anyone who has had a serious injury or have had been stabbed, would tell you pain is not a factor. You go into shock and feel no pain.
    Since it is predation nature has chosen to balance itself, it has also made sure to keep suffering to a minimum.
    So there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Increasingly I am being convinced that all scientists are retards (especially the evolutionists).
    I would suggest instead, spare them the feeling of fear for they know they are facing certain death or if thats not possible consume less meat so animals can be farmed humanely. There is the added bonus of it being better for us healthwise.

  • http://none Melody G.

    While scientists are genetically modifying the animals to not feel pain, they should also genetically modify the animals to speak. Then the animals themselves could tell us whether the pain they feel truly bothers them or not.

  • Tim D.

    Genetically modifying animals to not feel pain makes no sense. It seems more humane but I think it would end up being more dangerous than helpful to the animal.

  • Nicola

    Pain free animals will be a step in the right direction. But its not perfect yet. What about loneliness, abandonment feelings, being packed in too narrow cages? What about diseases? What about pollution because of the toxic drugs used?

    Dr. Ray Kurzweil wrote in his book Transcend that in only a few years from now the new technology of bio engineered meat will surpas the marketability of farm meats. This new technology is pain free, suffering free, loneliness free, pollution free, bio hazard free, and green. Scientists develop meat parts of animals in petri dishes, which grow like plants. Those are cell accumulations, often cell differentiated, but those cell clusters have no nerve cells in them at all. Those are live cells like in plants, but they are the cells of animal DNA.

    With this technology we can basically grow meat plants in a whole new meaning and literally and green as in clean. We can grow animal protein like we grow plants. This technology needs to be supported as soon as possible and hopefully given incentives. But knowing the factory farm lobby the incentives will most likely not come from governments. The consumers need to ask for it, lobby and petition to get it on the market sooner. The animals will thank us for it.


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