‘Harrumph! Oh yes!’ With an expansive stretch and a shove of his chair, he grins over at me.
I look up from my book, stop munching on my toast and marmalade and stare questioningly across the table ‘What?’
‘Oh nothing. Just the editorial in the New Scientist…you should read it.’ He gets up, a maddening little smile playing over his face.
‘Hey what? You can’t just walk out. It’s obviously something good otherwise you wouldn’t be goading me!’
‘Sorry! Loads of work to do. History to make, hoverflies to catch, hedges to write about and moths to think about….Gotta go. Read it.’
‘No! What is it?’
‘Read it…must dash…’
‘Okay, okay. So what do you think about engineering animals, farm livestock, so they don’t feel pain?’
‘What! So that people can be guilt free whilst keeping them in horrific conditions?’ I exclaim. I thrust my chair away from the table. I’m shocked. ‘That’s atrocious. Despicable. Oh yes, just let’s keep factory farming and inhumane systems, after all we make billions from it, so we’ll just fiddle about with nature a bit; engineer livestock not to feel pain and that should make it all alright. Of course it does. Doesn’t it? Does it? Hell no!’ I storm around the kitchen ‘What’s with man? Why do we think we have the god given right to to to to’ I stutter I’m so angry I can get my words out ‘to ….’
‘So you think that animals should continue to suffer in intensive factory systems? You don’t think it’d be better to stop the pain? You’d rather tens of millions of animals…?
I interrupt ‘No I certainly don’t. But why fix the animals and not the system. End factory farming and you end the problem.’ I dust off my hands ‘End of story!’
‘You’ll never get rid of factory farming.’
‘So that means you compound the problem? You don’t even try? You sit back on your laurels full of smug complacency that the steak, chicken, pork chop you’re tucking into is just fine because it didn’t suffer pain whilst being farmed in the most abominable conditions? No! That’s just so wrong. Immoral.’
‘So what’s your solution then?’
What is my solution? I read the editorial. It’s well written. Very well written. The editor draws on the similarity to Douglas Adam’s novel The Restaurant At the End Of The World where Arthur Dent, the main character, is horrified when a cow-like creature is wheeled to the restaurant table, introduces itself as the dish of the day and proceeds to describe the cuts of meat available from its body. The animal has been bred to want to be eaten and to be capable of saying so.
The truth is not far behind fiction, the editorial continues, as proposals are underway to genetically engineer livestock to be untroubled by pain – all too common in intensively reared farm animals. The concept treats cattle, pigs and chicken as if they were inanimate objects whose suffering is like a computer program in need of debugging.
Apparently my violent reaction is quite common too, even has a name – it’s known as the ‘yuck factor’, and it’s not an unusual response to those many advances in biotechnology and biomedicine involving cloning, genetic modification and human-animal chimeras. This distaste is often irrational and can be a potential barrier to progress. Progressive thoughts often comes from ignoring such reactions and thinking things through logically instead.
I can see the logic behind Robert’s comments yes – pain-free animals do make sense – but only in a world that has devalued animal life to a point where anything’s acceptable to aid the production of billions of tonnes of cheap meat. A world that no longer cares about the plight of animals but only of how it’s going to feed itself cheaply.
If the choice is between animals bio-engineered not to feel pain or eating less meat, I know what I think is right. But equally well, I know that most people can’t care much about the pain factory-farmed animals endure – otherwise they would not eat their meat. For many in poor nations, they have no choice. But still, surely the human race can’t sink that low?