February 21, 2010

An open letter to Adam Shriver in response to his opinion piece in The New York Times in February 2010: "Not Grass-Fed, but at Least Pain-Free"

Hello Mr. Shriver,

I am a housewife in NC who milks a family cow to feed my children.  We raise a few chickens and keep a small garden.  We're an average family and I am not a professional farmer.  But I read your recent opinion in The New York Times with some alarm.  I wonder if your work is affiliated with Monsanto or a Monsanto subsidiary in anyway? 

I certainly support the idea of changing factory farming to better care for the animals.  Temple Grandin has done some fabulous work improving the lives of captive animals.  When animals are suffering from inappropriate care, it seems to me, we need to change their quality of care.  To genetically modify them so their response to pain is blunted is a horrifying thought.  Do I understand correctly that the animals will still feel pain, but will not care about the pain?  They will feel pain but have no fear of pain?  Or they will feel pain but not as intensely?  I am trying to understand.

It concerns me deeply that genetically modifying animals this way would allow humans to feel less guilty about forcing animals into inhumane care.  Yet, I read nothing to suggest it would actually improve animal quality of life. 

Factory farming produces a lot of food.  I won't argue that.  And the production of this food creates an enormous, I might say obscene, amount of profit for a few corporations.   Monsanto, Archer Daniels, and Cargil come to mind.  It seems to me, these corporations could simply improve the lives of their animals.  It has been proven on countless small family farms that animals raised appropriately are more fertile, live longer, and harvest healthier product - be that meat, dairy, or eggs.  Can you seriously suggest it would be a better idea to blunt their response to pain instead?  You have a masters in philosophy from Texas A&M.  You seriously believe this genetic modification is a good idea? 

I am not writing to harass you.  I am genuinely concerned by this research and by the profound lack of morality it implies.   And please tell me, how could a cow thus modified, know or care when she is in labor?  Or when its time to deliver her placenta?   Or more to the point, how might this affect her let down response to give milk?

William Moyer, a veterinarian at Texas A&M published a study in 2000 on chronic laminitis.  While horses are not factory animals, I think the standard care for horses in pain is spoken explicitly here.   Why would the standard for horses in pain be different than other farm animals in pain: "One of the important issues that should emerge is that of the humane aspect of prolonging the chronically and severely painful life of a horse. A basic question that should be asked of the owner or the agents of the owner is, “Is this horse being kept alive for its sake or that of the owner?” ...We believe that keeping a chronically suffering horse alive, either for the sake of the owner or for its potential monetary value, is unethical..."

Ms. Our Report Card


Joe said...

Wow. Ok. You got me with that one. That Shriver article is one of the craziest things I've seen the NY Times put in print ever. His whole premise is based on the "facts" that factory farms are both necessary and well-run. He trots out the average number of pounds of beef Americans eat each year (no problem with that, right Adam?), which tells him CLEARLY that we're therefore stuck with the factory farm. What?

As if fast food chains aren't throwing away pounds of beef every hour as part of their service model? As if pounds of outdated beef aren't rotting daily in dumpsters behind every grocery in America.

No. We clearly need all this beef and the only way to continue to get it is through factory farms. Ok. And his solution is that we start engineering the cows to live in these sub-par conditions in pain and just, you know, not complain about it.

So, the people running these factories will never know if their cows are actually feeling or reacting to any kind of pain. Well, I can't see any potential problems with that idea.


Katherine said...

Thank you. Because, I know, RIGHT?! wtf?

Cecelia (CC) said...

Whoa. Thank you for speaking. I hope you sent this in. excellent writing btw.

my password for this comment is "dambum"..

damn bum

Katherine said...

I asked the children what they thought of this idea of genetically modifying animals to blunt their pain. Henry brought up the monsters in "Brysinger." Oh, that is a great point. These monsters were modified so they don't feel pain. And they were VERY MONSTROUS indeed. They were insane. And reading through war scenes with these monsters was exhausting, horrifying, and led you to extreme relief when they finally die. Because they are so insanely monstrous you have to feel sorry for them. After you kill them, that is.

Adam Shriver said...

Hi Katherine,

I got your email, but since this has the same content I'll just respond here.

First, no, I absolutely don't work for any special interests. I'm actually vegan, and have been vegetarian since the age of five because of my extreme dislike of factory farms.

I dislike factory farms for a number of reasons, and I think the best thing we can do is to get rid of them entirely. However, I don't see any evidence of them going away in the near future. With this in mind, I ask if it's fair for us to cause billions of animals to suffer every year while we wait for their elimination. My answer is no, it's not fair to do this.

I commend you for your small farm (which are, of course, dramatically different than industrialized farming) and I wish more people were getting their food the way you do. But the reality is that society is not going to make this big of a change anytime soon.

In answer to your question about how this works: in humans, when the affective pain pathway is impaired, they will say that they still feel pain but that it no longer bothers them. Thus, they still sense pain, but the unpleasant aspect of it is missing. So animals would be able to immediately react to painful stimulation, but they would not be as good at learning to avoid similar situations in the future. However, the rats who had these knockouts were able to survive without complication in their cages, which is unfortunately similar to some of the lives that other animals have to live on factory farms (but not your farm).

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughtful feedback, and I would not have a problem with farming if it was done the way you do it, but we are unfortunately a long way off from that reality. While we are working to get there, I think we need to make sure to cause as little suffering as possible, and that's what my proposal was about.

Cecelia (CC) said...


Deep respect and gratitude for your reply.

CC King

Anonymous said...

I respect Mr. Shrivers need to tackle the immediate problem of animal suffering and his personal decision to be vegan thereby contributing in two ways to lessen animal suffering.

I submit, however, that eliminating the unpleasantness of pain for animals will create a new monster. The continuation of the factory farms. The soothing of the collective conscience were animal treatment is concerned.

No, Mr. Shriver, the system is not going to change any time soon, but it is my feeling your research is handing the industry another way to propagate itself. Better yet, use your research to find ways to help the industry find alternatives to factory raised animals and make a start at ending the industry as we know it.

No, it won't change any time soon....but why not be a catalyst to helping that change?

Maria R.

Katherine said...

Hey Adam,

The argument for controlling factory animal pain is a bit specious. Because factories already know, full well, how to control animal pain. Which is to say, treat the animals humanely and their pain will disappear. Factories are well capable of treating animals humanely. Unfortunately, their management style is very much a choice based on greed over even basic decency or regard for the lives of animals or the public.

I deeply appreciate your willingness to discuss this. Knowing that a thoughtful human being is on the other end of this research is encouraging.

Thanks for your response,

val said...

I suppose nitrous oxide could just be pumped in via the ventilation system. (just kidding, just kidding) But that would be the same basic idea... love, Val

Sarah said...

"While we are working to get there, I think we need to make sure to cause as little suffering as possible, and that's what my proposal was about."

This statement brings to mind the quote "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

Which is a more likely outcome of following this proposal to fruition?

1) The "way we do it" changes, factory farms become a thing of the past, and animals are free to go back to being 'real'.


2) Factory farms hold out the fact that the animals are now not feeling any pain as a reason to not change the system.

Good intentions do not always lead to good ideas.