SAC #35: The Stepford Chickens



Thursday, 10 May 2007, 4- 5:30pm


Seminar Room, Centre for Innovation, 87 St. David St.


Mike King, Bioethics Centre, University of Otago School of Medicine


Many objections to current farming practices argue that such practices are unethical only insofar as they frustrate the interests of the animal to be free from pain, to express the range of behaviours appropriate to their species, and so forth. The ethicist Bernard Rollin has argued that the genetic modification of animal interests to reduce the level of suffering experienced by farmed animals is not inherently morally problematic, and has the potential to improve the ethical status of the farming enterprise. Accepting the practical difficulty of such an endeavor, Rollin describes a hypothetical scenario in which chickens are genetically engineered to be content in battery cages. He argues that, other things being equal, the welfare of the animal has been improved: it no longer has frustrated interests, because any interests typical of the species which might be frustrated by the situation, are no longer present. The creation of genetically blind hens, which enjoy better welfare in battery cages, is a real-life example of this, and others can be cited. Rollin suggests that, in this situation, any qualms that may arise are due to aesthetic rather than ethical concerns. Rollin?s defence of this, theoretically possible, use of genetic engineering has been applied to more extreme hypothetical scenarios, including the farming of decerebrate lumps of chicken tissue, which sit silently above a conveyor-belt onto which their eggs drop safely and are carried off to be packaged and sold. These arguments will be explored, and related to the New Zealand poultry situation.

About the Speaker

Mike has a PhD in Animal Science from Massey University, and is currently a Lecturer at the University of Otago's Bioethics Centre. His main interests are in animal ethics and the ethics of new technologies.


Scott Willis