On Mitigating the Cruelty of Natural Selection Through Humane Genome Editing

Part of the Advances in Neuroethics book series (AIN)


Natural selection cares nothing for animal suffering. However, it is artificial selection that governs the genetics of billions of domesticated animals and consequently their predisposition to well-being. Even without directed research, future insights into the genetics of mood will almost certainly enable us to substantially improve the lives of trillions of animals, posing a profound neuroethical challenge (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Live animals. FAOSTAT statistical database, 2018). The sheer magnitude of the potential change in animal well-being demands great caution in evaluating whether, when, and how to develop and apply such technologies. A single mistake, whether rhetorically or technologically, could result in a great deal of animal suffering that might otherwise be avoided. Here we outline the moral responsibilities of those who choose to engage with the problem and those who decline. We discuss possible approaches for evaluating the efficacy of genetic methods and the concern that over-optimizing for indirect measures of well-being may reduce the extent to which we can be confident that those phenotypes are still meaningful indicators of what we are trying to measure. Lastly, we consider the extent to which we can expect animals used in agriculture to have been subject to selective pressures that result in their improved well-being in factory environments and the implications for the question of whether we should deliberately employ genetic methods to improve animal well-being.


Animal well-being Genetic methods Factory farming Natural selection Evolution Action/inaction distinction 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Media LabMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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