Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Do animals really suffer or feel pain?

After watching a truck of chickens drive down the road in the rain, I couldn’t help but notice they had no protection from the weather and as I pulled up next to them, they seemed so weak and pathetic. They did not look like the chickens I imagined who produced the meaty chicken breasts at dinner a couple nights ago. Seeing these birds being treated like nothing, it made me think about the discussion we had in class a week or so ago about animal rights and the thought came back to me; do animals really feel suffering? How can we know?

Pain is described to be a mental state of consciousness (1). There is really no other way to describe it other than a stimulus that makes a person tend to flinch, shy away from, or even completely avoid it because they did not like the way it made them feel. Animals too have stimulus they do not like. Have you ever seen a cow being branded? They try to get away by kicking and moving, but because they can’t communicate it in a way that humans understand, we think nothing of it and look the other way.

As an animal lover, it has always been difficult to scold or yell at a pet, especially a dog. This is because we are able to tell when they are affected. They yelp, bark, or cry out. They don’t have to be able to talk to us to make us understand they do feel that pain and they do suffer from it. You can compare this type of assumption with a young child who cannot speak yet. We are able to tell when they do not like something or are hurt because of their actions. We do not question them nor do we overlook them as we do with animals.

In factory farms especially, cattle and chickens are perfect example of animals that do suffer, but because of their inferiority and lack of communication, we never really hear about how much they are suffering or are in pain. In Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan described how chickens living in these factory farms often live their entire lives, (usually short ones) in hen houses where all they do is lay eggs (Pollan 317). They do not have the chance to live outside or stretch their legs. They will end up rubbing themselves up against the wire and their skin goes raw. That might be their way of communicating that they need to have that freedom; that they are feeling something that they do not like and want it to stop. As more and more skin is rubbed raw, the more the nervous system is affected and can cause the animals pain. (The nervous system in animals and humans have evoloved in different ways, but are still similar in ways in which they work.)

Cattle are huge, stupid animals who can’t feel anything because they are not smart enough to do so. This is an untrue thought because they also feel pain and suffer in factory farms just like the chickens, but in different ways. These cattle are put in close living quarters with over thousands in a single pen, we take away their freedom from roaming around, and we feed them food their stomachs cannot digest all because it is cheaper for us. We don’t consider the problems we might be causing them because we don’t take the time to think that maybe these cattle are affected by our choices or that these choices might not be the best thing. Have you ever tried eating something that doesn’t agree with your stomach? Not a good feeling, is it? Not only do you feel awful, but sometimes you have to go to the doctors just to fix it. Because we have that ability to communicate those feelings, we tend to stay away from those stimuli. Unlike cattle, they cannot communicate that the corn they are eating is actually hurting them. Their stomachs are not made for that type of food, but we continue to gove it to them because we are blind to their suffering.

After reading Pollan and the chapters on Polyface Farm, I believe there is a way to stop animals suffering. The cattle living free on Joel Salatin’s farms seem a lot happier than the ones in the factory farms. These cattle have all types of grasses to eat, they are able to roam free in pastures, and they don’t live in overcrowded pens. They still were able to produce meat in a way that was humane to the cattle. I think that this type of farming is doable and needs to be taken in consideration to base other farms off of this model. The animals are trying to communicate they suffer from the actions we take with them, but we just turn our backs to them and pretend to never hear.

As the chickens drove away, I couldn’t help but to feel sorry for them. They were suffering in silent and there wasn’t really anyway to help then now. As people become more and more aware of the fact that animals do suffer and can feel pain, the ways in which our meats are raised may change for the better.

1. http://www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-m/singer03.htm

2. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/PainManagement/Story?id=722163&page=1

3. Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Penguin Book, England. 2006.

4. http://www.grandin.com/welfare/fear.pain.stress.html

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