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Pain-Free Animals Could Take Suffering Out of Farming 429

Philosopher Adam Shriver suggested that genetically engineering cows to feel no pain could be an acceptable alternative to eliminating factory farming in a paper published in Neuroscience. Work by neuroscientist Zhou-Feng Chen at Washington University may turn Shriver's suggestion a reality. Chen has been working on identifying the genes that control "affective" pain, the unpleasantness part of a painful sensation. He has managed to isolate a gene called P311, and has found that mice who do not have P311 don't have negative associations with pain, although they do react negatively to heat and pressure. This could end much of the concern about cruel farming practices, but unfortunately still leaves my design for the fiery hamburger punch in the unethical column.


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Pain-Free Animals Could Take Suffering Out of Farming

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  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:08AM (#29311359)

    ...eliminates the soul-sucking ennui of day-to-day life.

    I think they're missing the point.

  • Insanity (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Philip K Dickhead ( 906971 ) <> on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:08AM (#29311361) Journal

    CAN != Should

    • Exactly! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) * on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:47AM (#29311905)

      Don't these idiots know that the suffering is where all the good flavor is?

      • Re:Exactly! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:17PM (#29312399) Journal

        Don't these idiots know that the suffering is where all the good flavor is?

        What? Maybe for beef, I'm not sure...

        But for pigs, it's really important that you kill them unexpectedly, or the meat gets an off flavor. I always used to drop mine off at the butchers, where he'd treat them nicely for a couple days for them to get content and acclimated, then he'd shoot them when they weren't expecting it.

        This is why all the best butchers are ninjas and/or members of the Spanish Inquisition.

        • Re:Exactly! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @01:05PM (#29313011)
          Not just that, but a cow who can't feel pain also won't moo when there is a pain-causing stimulus that is harming the animal. Whether it's a disease, a broken bone, a pregnancy gone wrong, or anything else, the rancher won't have cause to suspect his cow is in trouble and you will end up with diseased, bruised meat, deadly miscarriages, and other problems. It's crueler than pain.

          Disclaimer: I do not believe cows suffer unduly as a general rule, and I do not believe that refusing to eat beef on ethical grounds is anything short of dumb. Add a willingness to eat fish despite the ethical objection to beef, and you're a complete hypocrite (fish are suffocated to death, while livestock are usually killed fairly painlessly). Bring on the surf and turf!
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by raddan ( 519638 ) *
            Yeah but fish are ugly.
          • Re:Exactly! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by mpoulton ( 689851 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @03:12PM (#29315445)

            Disclaimer: I do not believe cows suffer unduly as a general rule, and I do not believe that refusing to eat beef on ethical grounds is anything short of dumb. Add a willingness to eat fish despite the ethical objection to beef, and you're a complete hypocrite (fish are suffocated to death, while livestock are usually killed fairly painlessly). Bring on the surf and turf!

            I eat fish and avoid beef on ethical grounds. I'm not dumb, or hypocritical. Every morality-based lifestyle choice operates only within certain limits, and the extent of those limits is a manifestation of the degree of importance the individual places on the underlying moral issue. The issue at hand is also not nearly as simple as you claim it to be. My primary concern is not the last five minutes of my food's life, it's everything that happens beforehand. Wild-caught fish live in a completely natural state until they are caught. While many bad things may happen to those fish in nature, humans don't cause those problems! Fish also lack the same type and degree of pain sensation that mammals have (though some studies indicate that they perceive something pain-like). Cows, on the other hand, exist only at the will of their owners, and any suffering they endure is entirely our fault. They process pain the same way humans do. I believe that, in general, livestock are not treated with the degree of care throughout their lives that is owed to a captive sentient being. Therefore, I eat fish and not beef. You may disagree with the value judgments inherent in this argument, and may dispute some of the uncertain facts regarding the nature of suffering and pain sensation (since these issues are legitimately subject to scientific debate), but that does not make my reasoning or my conclusion "dumb" or "hypocritical" any more than yours is.

        • Re:Exactly! (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @01:30PM (#29313377)

          This is why all the best butchers are ninjas and/or members of the Spanish Inquisition.

          Ninjas I can understand, but I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

    • Re:Insanity (Score:4, Insightful)

      by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:00PM (#29312133) Homepage Journal

      While true, how about you make a point on why they shouldn't?

  • Um, how about no? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Millennium ( 2451 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:09AM (#29311367)

    Pain serves a useful biological function: it allows living things to know when they have been injured.

    Now, admittedly, cattle are not the brightest animals in the evolutionary tree. Nevertheless, they still know enough to stay away from things that hurt them. Removing the ability to do that can't possibly be good for their safety.

    • by mevets ( 322601 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:21AM (#29311575)

      This is why the pace of technological growth is slowing. 50 years ago, people would have looked at this and thought, wow, we can bbq live steak, and it won't try to run away.
      Those people had ideas, big ideas. They looked at nuclear bombs and thought "Hey, we could get rid of those mountains blocking our view".
      That is the spirit of innovation that drives true progress...

    • by Phase Shifter ( 70817 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:25AM (#29311621) Homepage
      Not to mention, it will be end of barbed wire fences as an effective means of containing cattle.
      Probably a reduction in the effectiveness of electric fences, too.
      Makes you wonder what kind of conditions they expect to raise the cattle under.
    • Who knows what side effects may show in these animals? Tromping down fences- or perhaps a fearlessness that would be dangerous to farmers.

    • by InlawBiker ( 1124825 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:37AM (#29311767)
      Precisely. If you remove their pain sensors you might also remove their fear sensors. Then we would have angry, fearless cows who can feel no pain mercilessly dealing out revenge on their former masters, burning and killing everything in their path. I think this is a bad idea.
    • Pain serves a useful biological function

      And what purpose does it serve for the farmer? Let's not drop the context that his goal - to raise cattle - is the only one to be served. Simply stating that "pains serves a useful function" imagines some other goal, or that the function is equally useful regardless of the goal or value.

  • At last! (Score:5, Funny)

    by FlyingSquidStudios ( 1031284 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:09AM (#29311373) Homepage
    Now I can build my impervious-to-pain super-soldier army! Thank you, cow scientists!
  • Stupid (Score:2, Funny)

    Udderly Stupid (sorry, couldn't help myself).

    An animal that can not feel pain would be very likely to injure itself. People who have conditions where they cannot feel pain are having to constantly check themselves for broken bones, sores, scrapes, etc. You might think it would be wonderful to live in a world without pain, but it would truly be awful.

    Pain is there for a reason.... unlike this freaking 1.5" wide text area I am typing in.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by acon1modm ( 1009947 ) *

      I think cattle are kept in individual pens just large enough for them to fit in, they can't even turn around. I don't think they can get into much trouble.

      I could be wrong about this , I just saw it in a documentary.

      • Depends on the cattle. My uncle was a dairy farmer, and while his cows had stalls of cow size, they were open on one side, so the cows could go in and out as they pleased. While they looked to small to turn around in (and most cows would just back in or back out), I've seen quite a few turn around inside the stall, if a tad awkwardly. When they weren't being milked, they were allowed to roam around a field outside the barn.

        I don't know how the beef industry works, but at least for small scale family dair

      • Pens are expensive (and require very expensive grain) and cattle are grazed on the most worthless land available (if land is only worth growing grass it's cattle range). Why do you think Texas was prime cattle country?

        Calves are kept in pens (normally 2x their size sheltered and 3-5x their size open) when they're not kept with their mothers (normally dairy calves) until their weaned at which point they join a beef herd.
      • That isn't how most cattle spend most of their life... they may end up in place like that for a short time just before the end, but most get to roam around some field eating grass and looking bored for several years.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by avandesande ( 143899 )

        Maybe you are thinking of veal pens.

        There are all kinds of ways to farm cattle. Here in New Mexico they are allowed to graze on multi-thousand acre ranches.

    • +1 Haberman Device

      "Scanner, are your bones broken? If so, go see a medic."

    • by schon ( 31600 )

      Pain is there for a reason.... unlike this freaking 1.5" wide text area I am typing in.

      Try installing Stylish [] and adding the following custom stylesheet.

      @namespace url(;

      @-moz-document domain("") {
      div.quote, blockquote {
      font-style: italic!important;

      textarea#postercomment {
      width: 80%!important;
      height: 20%!important;

  • by Comatose51 ( 687974 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:10AM (#29311399) Homepage
    It might sound like a good idea but I find the whole idea of genetically engineering cows so they don't feel pain so we can eat them without guilt is kind of creepy, surreal, and absurd. The far simpler solution is to eEither stop eating meat or continue eating it the same way we have for as long as there has been humans. I mean what's next? Engineer ourselves to not feel pain? Then is it OK to murder?
    • I think the point is this: if the choice is between livestock that lives in daily pain until it is slaughtered, and livestock that doesn't, only a sick bastard would prefer the scenario with the needless suffering. That's not saying that it's the best possible scenario, but it's not crazy to think it might be the best realistic near-term scenario in a world where the demand for meat is growing exponentially.
      • by rotide ( 1015173 )
        I totally understand what you're saying, but isn't this just masking the real issue?

        I'm no vegan and I think PETA is a bunch of retards, but with that said, I do abhor curelty to animals.

        Whether they feel no pain or tons of pain doesn't change the fact that they are treated entirely unethically. I understand that killing them is necessary for consumption of meat and I'm totally ok with that, but forcing them to live for x years in a tiny pen is just beyond cruel.

        My point here is, dulling their pain real

        • by 93,000 ( 150453 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:52AM (#29312007)

          I think you are confusing beef and veal. Normal beef cows are not confined to a tiny pen.

          People unfamiliar with farming underestimate the degree to which the comfort of animals is taken into account. Stressed steers are less healthy. Dairy cows produce significantly less milk when stressed or uncomfortable. Some dairies play music all day because they've found it has a calming effect and increases production.

          Like anything, it's all about money. But comfortable animals help the bottom line.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by mdarksbane ( 587589 )

            I noticed that when I went to the livestock judging at the local fair recently. It was all kids' 4-H projects, and the judges were taking very careful time to explain how important it was that you handle the livestock gently, as bruised meat is essentially worthless.

            I know some farming operations are rougher than others (factory farmed chickens for example), but all of the beef cattle I see raised around here spend most of their days pretty much the same as they do in the wild - wandering around through a w

      • If you're going to that level of change, it's probably more effective (and not all that much more expensive) to engineer steak to grow in a vat.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The next step is to grow meat without a central nervous system at all, in arbitrary size.

      It sounds creepy, but only because it is unusual. When you think about it, this method of producing meat is superior.

    • by ratnerstar ( 609443 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:26AM (#29311629) Homepage

      Maybe we can genetically engineer cows to not taste so delicious -- problem solved!

    • by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:35AM (#29311751) Journal

      I think we should engineer plants to feel pain. That way we can screw over the pussy vegetarians and they're attempts to attain a moral high ground.

    • Arthur Dent agrees []

    • Your question does not solve the dilemma. If you mean that bio-engineering cows to not feel pain makes it OK to murder human beings who do not feel pain, it would also imply that murder is OK with normal human beings since we kill animals which feel pain. Similarly your assumption would also imply that if you believe murder is wrong, then killing animals is wrong.
      The error (as I see it) in your assumption is the idea that anything that is OK in animals is OK with humans. I think of animals as slightly
    • because we seem to going overboard in finding new ways to feel guilty about our lifestyle through the ages and even more absurd ways to deal with it.

      Suddenly its the pain the animal feels before it dies, sorry, but hello, its the fact we killed it that should cause more guilt than the pain it felt getting to that end result.

      If you object to the first but not the latter you need to grow up and accept how you live your life or give up food products requiring the death of a living creature.

      Yes I am a meat eate

    • I mean what's next? Engineer ourselves to not feel pain? Then is it OK to murder?

      Poor example. I'd say, "Is it ok to murder someone if you know their consciousness will be immediately downloaded into an exact duplicate of their body?" Murder isn't about pain, as you can die in non-painful ways. It's about not existing anymore.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:11AM (#29311407)

    Dish of the Day: Good evening, madame and gentlemen. I am the main dish of the day. May I interest you in parts of my body? May I urge you, sir, to consider my liver? It must be very rich and tender by now. I have been force feeding myself for months.

  • Universal Soldier or something like it.
    • Humans already develop this "ability" occasionally. There are two forms (that I'm aware of), one that can't sense pain, and the other that can't sense pain or heat. Being born with either usually means a short life. If I bite my tongue, I stop before I do serious damage. If I touch a hot stove, I pull back quickly. These reactions aren't automatic for CIPA sufferers (CIP [] sufferers might react to the stove). When I get a splinter in my foot, I remove it. If I get an infected ingrown nail or hair, I app

  • So now that farm animals can feel no pain, we can just push them until they drop dead in the fields?

  • They keep hurting themselves. Break elg. burn. Cut. Wanna bet that you would have to change some farming rule to make sure your cow would be halfway in a decent health when slaughtered ?
  • A pain-free animal would quickly injure itself, and die.

    There is a good reason for pain.

  • Most of the vegetarians I've asked would eat meat that had been cloned in a vat. It would presumably be much more efficient in terms of energy than raising live animals as well, since all the energy could go into the juicy and delicious parts without wasting it on such incidentals as walking around and mooing.

    Making the cow inured to pain? So the majority of people would go from not worrying one jot about how the animal feels, to.... oh. Vegetarians would probably just start to refuse to eat the meat on the

  • I've been wondering about this for a while now: Since pigs and dairy cows are basically kept in a pen slightly larger than their bodies, couldn't they be surgically modified to basically be in a vegetative state and then tube-fed? Would that add significantly to the cost of meat? I know that I'd be willing to pay extra for meat from animals who verifiably did not suffer.
    • I'm pretty sure you understand this, but just in case, to clarify, a lobotomy disconnects the frontal lobe, which has nothing to do with the interpretation of pain signals. If a lobotomy worked, it'd be very convenient because it's a comparatively simple procedure (at one point, some were doing it just by jamming an icepick up inside the eye). As far as a total coma-like vegetative state, personally, I'd rather my meat be conscious first. Vegetative food seems a great deal to "Matrixy" for my pallet.
    • by lwsimon ( 724555 ) <> on Friday September 04, 2009 @12:18PM (#29312409) Homepage Journal

      Having worked on a dairy farm for years, and seeing that I have 8 hogs in my back yard, I'm going to call bullshit on this one. Dairy cattle are typically allowed to freely roam for most of the day. Their day goes like this:

      Wake up in a large barn, with 400 or so other cows. Mosey out into a holding pen and stand there until let into the milk barn. Stand there and get milked. Blow snot on the person milking you. Crap all over the place, try to splatter on the person milking you. Walk out into a field. Stand around and chew on grass all day. Come back to the holding pen because your udder is full and uncomfortable. Stand there until let into the milk barn. Stand there and get milked. Blow snot on the person milking you. Crap all over the place, try to splatter on the person milking you. Walk out into a field. Chew on some grass. Go back to the barn and go to sleep.

      Hog pens are messy, but that's not because they're mistreated - pigs can't effectively sweat, so they cover themselves with wet mud to help dissipate heat. I promise, they *prefer* it that way. The pens are usually about 10x10' per pig.

  • its not the pain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbrandt ( 113294 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:21AM (#29311567)

    Feeling no pain is different from experiencing distress. Its not the pain that most activists are worried about, its the living conditions, the over crowding, the bad feed.

    Get a grip.


    • Hm. How do we know cows feel stress due to living conditions?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cowscows ( 103644 )

        Although they might not be as well developed as human emotions, anyone who's spent any significant amount of time with an mammal at least as complex as a dog or cat should be convinced that they most certainly can experience states of mind that include things like fear or stress. They are definitely more comfortable in some situations than they are in others. I personally have not spent much time around cows, but it seems rather likely to me that someone who has would easily be able to tell what sorts of si

  • by Laxitive ( 10360 )

    "It's impossible! These cows... they..?! They DON'T FEEL A THING! They can't be stopped!"

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )
    Pain-free soldiers could take the suffering out of war...
    Pain-free Asian children could take the suffering out of Nike shoes...

    I don't want to sound like a douche or anything, but I became vegitarian (not vegan though) a few months ago, and except for a few exceptions for fish, I've stuck to it pretty tight. I'll joke about the Nirvana lyric 'its ok to eat fish because they don't have any feelings', but this is kind of just a step too far. Yeah, I think its somewhat ghoulish to find nourishment in the cha
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Yeah, I think its somewhat ghoulish to find nourishment in the chard flesh and dead animals, but when you really think about it,

      No it isn't. What is really funny is all the vegetarians tend to be Evolutionists who haven't figured out that Humans are Omnivores designed to eat just about anything. oops, I said Designed, gasp.

  • Right now you can use things like barbed wire fences and electric fences to keep the cows safe and corralled. If they couldn't feel pain it'd be a cross between a cow and "Darkman". They'd charge through fences getting cut to ribbons and never noticing the blood, or stand on electric fences until they caught fire. Cattle are painfully stupid. Stupid livestock are expensive and annoying to deal with. Ask a turkey farmer.
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:40AM (#29311803)

    This could end much of the concern about cruel farming practices, but unfortunately still leaves my design for the fiery hamburger punch in the unethical column.

    No, I think it will only raise the concerns. Just because an animal can't feel you pushing it around with a forklift doesn't mean it isn't cruel. Further, pain is a safety of sorts...that an animal can feel pain and react to it is motivation for its owners/caretakers to treat it properly. Granted, there are some sick people who don't care, but thankfully, many people at least feel guilt at the sound and sight of an animal in pain. Why exactly are we taking that away, instead of treating the animals better? Oh yes, right, profit.

    Furthermore, while I enjoy a tasty cheeseburger as much as any other omnivore, I have enough vegetarian friends to know that their concerns in the "treatment of animals" department (there are MANY reasons people go vegetarian) extend well beyond immediate pain. It's also the concept of keeping animals in captivity they object to, and they don't really mean the cute farm your kids draw. They mean the megafarms where animals spend their entire lives in a pen the size of your shower.

  • Do we really want to encourage the idea that people can inflict injury or pain on animals without shame? Not all animals would be engineered in this way. Some of those will be your pets others will be in the wild. Can people who get used to the guilt free abuse of animals really be expected to turn that behavior off when they are around your pets or children or, for that matter other adults? I doubt it. They will be completely desensitized. Frightening.

    BTW I am an omnivore. I just think that cruelty

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Friday September 04, 2009 @11:44AM (#29311861) Homepage

    'That's absolutely horrible,' exclaimed Arthur, 'the most revolting thing I've ever heard.'

    'What's the problem Earthman?' said Zaphod, now transfering his attention to the animal's enormous rump.

    'I just don't want to eat an animal that's standing there inviting me to,' said Arthur, 'It's heartless.'

    'Better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten,' said Zaphod.

    'That's not the point,' Arthur protested. Then he thought about it for a moment. 'Alright,' he said, 'maybe it is the point. I don't care, I'm not going to think about it now. I'll just ... er ... I think I'll just have a green salad,' he muttered.

    'May I urge you to consider my liver?' asked the animal, 'it must be very rich and tender by now, I've been force-feeding myself for months.'

  • Wow. Talk about a lack of vision. If you've got a precise identification of a pain gene and a sequence of it, you're on the path to identifying the protein it makes and then finding chemicals that bind to that protein, affecting its function.

    Who gives a damn about humanely slaughtering cows? This is the starting point to the perfect medication for patients with debilitating chronic pain. It might also be the starting point to drugged-up super-soldiers and, if you can find drugs that turn *on* the pain p

    • My imagination for uses is not limited to cows, but my imagination for testing is limited to cows. I'll wait a while before trying any of that myself.
  • So, if these cows do not feel pain, would it still be considered inhumane to take actions against them that would normally cause pain?

  • Pain-Free Animals Could Take Suffering Out of Farming

    are farmers planning on giving cows medical marijuana now?
  • Maybe we should take some of Peter Davison's DNA and the DNA of a Painless Cow and you have an animal that wants you to eat it and is offended if you do not eat it.

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