This essay, by Oxford graduate student Catrin Gibson, is one of the six shortlisted essays in the graduate category of the inaugural Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.
If one is genuinely concerned with the welfare of non-human animals, should one seriously consider the disenhancement of intensively-farmed livestock as a possible method of reducing animal suffering?
It is generally agreed that suffering is bad. However, a countless number of non-human animals each year undergo tremendous suffering in order to meet the human demand for animal products, and this demand is currently increasing. The Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts that meat consumption will rise from 37.4kg per person worldwide (1999/2001) to 52 kg per person worldwide by 2050. The recent development of ‘intensive’ or ‘factory’ farming has greatly increased productivity, so it is likely that there will be an increase in the proportion of factory-farmed animal products to meet this demand. In factory farms, large numbers of livestock are kept indoors in relatively small spaces and suffer from horrific production diseases as a result. These are pathologies that occur due to the methods of livestock production; for example, chickens kept in large numbers have a tendency to cannibalism. Therefore, it is likely that there will be a significant increase in animal suffering in the near future.
The solution most often advocated by those who are concerned with the welfare of animals is that people should stop eating factory-farmed animal products. However, these campaigns have had limited success compared to the trend of growth in meat consumption. An alternative proposal is that livestock used in factory-farming could be genetically modified to reduce their capacities for sentience or suffering, known as ‘disenhancement’, thus decreasing the suffering felt by animals in factory-farms.
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