Robot Has No Heart

Xavier Shay blogs here

A robot that does not have a heart

Pain free cows are not awesome

Check it out, science reckons it can make a cow that doesn’t feel physical pain. Celebrate progress! We can all eat meat guilt free now, right?

These are not the cows you eat

Not quite.

How do you think scientists develop a pain-free cow?

“When the team injected a noxious, painful chemical into their paws, the mice licked them only briefly. In contrast, normal mice continued to do so for hours afterwards”

By inflicting pain. After mice, you work your way up the animal heirachy (each animal is different, you know) until eventually you arrive at livestock. There is a high moral cost, but also a high economic and opportunity cost – these scientists are smart guys, imagine what they could come up with if they weren’t busy torturing? We’re not even close to getting this working on larger mammals – behaviour in mice is not a good indicator for behaviour in more developed animals, not to mention all the regulatory barriers to actually marketing such an animal. At this point an actual robot cow is still a long way off.

Assuming we do eventually develop the perfect pain-free cow though, it really doesn’t solve the core problems. No matter what your views on animal rights, industrial farms cannot continue to exist. They cause tremendous amounts of pollution, both on a global the-seas-are-rising scale, and on a local my-whole-city-has-lung-problems scale. Current rates of meat consumption place an enormous burden on the health system – we produce far more meat than a healthy societly can consume. Pain-free research is a blatant misuse of resources.

Even if we allow that battery farms should continue to operate, a pain-free cow still isn’t necessarily a worthwhile goal. As evidenced by the neurotic behaviours developed by all battery farmed animals kept in confined spaces, the mental suffering of these animals is at least, if not greater, equal to the physical suffering endured. Confinement drives people crazy, it’s drives animals crazy too. A pain-free cow will still suffer. Strictly less than a normal cow perhaps, but the magnitude of this reduction would likely be less than many commentators are assuming.

We also encounter a problem of moral cushioning. As abolitionists are all too familiar with, in many cases the proliferation of “free range”, “organic” and other pretty labels are simply providing a convenient excuse for people to ignore (or even feel good about!) the consequences of their food choices. Is eating pain-free beef morally acceptable? Of course not. You are still eating an animal that suffered, you are still killing the earth. We need to be wary of providing excuses that will further delay any real moral progress.

We ought to reduce suffering, but as with any potential improvement the costs need to be weighed against the benefits. Pain-free free beef does not pass the grade.

Photo is Two Cows by kwerfeldein

A pretty flower Another pretty flower