lundi 29 février 2016

70- The spirit of plants -5- Pain


Vegetarianism and veganism are receiving an increasing home. One of the main mentioned arguments is the refusal of the suffering of animals.
This suffering is emphasized, both at the time of sacrifice that during the rearing phase.

Many articles or reports denounce factory farms where you can see animals in questionable conditions. As always in these sensational reports intended primarily to the hearing, it fails to mention that the large majority of animals are bred in very good conditions, with pastures and enough space to frolic.
Some recent scandals concerning unkempt slaughterhouses have reinforced these criticisms, while hiding most slaughterhouses are well kept and respect the ethical charters.

But these people who have chosen not to eat meat, as opposed to animal suffering, refuse any questioning concerning the plant suffering (have a look for example to

Plants don't cry, don't complain, it is their mistake. They don't know how to be heard by humans. Humans have always considered plants as inert beings, which are useful to produce, to manufacture tools, houses and many everyday objects, or to warm up. In short, the plants are accessories, of which we are told in recent years that they are essential because it is through them that we have pure air to breathe, that form beautiful landscapes and produce food and flowers. And finally, that's all.

Traditional science thinks that plants feel no pain for at least two reasons:
- Firstly they don't have pain receiver of the same type as in animals, nociceptors.
- Secondly, they have no reason to feel pain. In animals, the pain is a mean to put into action the protective reflexes, especially the leak. Plants don't have the opportunity to flee, so they have no reason to feel pain.

So, plants do they feel pain?
Many scientific teams worldwide are working on this.
Look for example at this short video of the Smithsonian's Channel

The experiment was conducted on the shy mimosa (Mimosa pudica), one of the rare plants that react to stimulation in a very visual way.
The first part shows that plants can be "anesthetized" with ether, which is able to make them "sleep" at the point that they cease to respond to stimulation. In fact, it seems that the ether blocks the transmission of electrical signals through the plant, in a comparable way that it blocks our neurotransmitters. Which process allows this transmission? It's a mystery. Scientists are still in an observation phase, conclusions will come later. This phenomenon exists, as this experience proves. Now it remains to analyze and understand it.
The second part show how, during an aggression, if the plant has not been previously anesthetized, it emits an electrical reaction signal. It transmits information to the part not affected by the attack. Is this a sign of suffering? No one can assert this, today. It is likely that this is a distress signal, which allows the rest of the plant to enable its internal means of self-defense (see my post on the self-defense of plants
But it seems clear that there is, in plants, an "electrical system" of passing information from one area to another.

For centuries we thought that animals don't suffer, that women don't have souls, and that little children don't feel pain. We have had to face the facts. Similarly, we realized that the Earth rotates on itself, that it revolves around the sun and that it is not the center of the Universe. In other times, people have been put on the stake for such claims. Yet now, we know this very well, we have all the evidence and no one except a few fools, put it in doubt. In short, man progresses in his understanding of the universe and his environment through science.
It is quite possible that in the coming years, science show us that there is a real vegetable suffering.

The plant world is one of the most important ways of discoveries, for decades or centuries to come. Recent advances in its understanding, allow us today to know that the plant world is much more complex and organized than we thought, and that plants have very different mechanisms of animals, that allow them to respond in their own way, to face stimulations of the same type.
Will we then stop eating plant? Moving from omnivore to vegetarian, it's easy, from vegetarian to vegan, it's a little more complicated, but it's also playable. However vegan spend to what?
Many discoveries will change our view of plants as well as our relationship to them. In which way? I don't know. Personally, I'm willing to believe that our knowledge of plants will enable us, in a probably far enough future, to interact with plants, in the way to move towards a more sustainable agriculture more productive and in which plants will play an active role.

So, are vegetarianism and veganism reasonable?
Should we fight against animal suffering by feeding exclusively from plants?
And if it were shown that plants suffer, how should we react?
Great ethical questions, which answers, only can be individual and personal.
I can only express an opinion. Currently, there is no absolute truth. But this truth will come. In a relatively short time, we will know with certainty what plants feel when we harvest their fruits (as in the case of most fruits and vegetables), when we tear them away (as in the case of carrots, turnips, radishes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.), when we cut them (lettuces, asparagus, bamboo shoots, salsify, etc.) to feed, or when we prune them, as in the case of orchards, forests, cut flowers.

It is certain that the human being is a super-predator, that the human body is designed to digest and assimilate elements from plant as well as animal origin. Deny this, is simply deny Nature.
Should we make lions or leopards vegetarians, to avoid the suffering of antelopes or zebras? It is true that some Tibetan monks breed tigers they feed only with plant products. But what would happen if these animals were released and returned to the wild? Would they remain vegetarian? I'm sure not. Their instinct of carnivorous predator would go back to the surface. They would again become formidable hunters. It is the law of Nature. The natural balance requires that predators exist.
On the other hand, our pain and suffering facing death, has nothing to do with that of animals. When wolves attack a herd of sheep and kill two of them, for example, what does the rest of the herd? Once past the moment of fear and survival instinct, the same instinct for survival led them to continue to graze peacefully until the next attack. No mourning nor tears, just a moment of fear.

We must fight abuses by humans against Nature in general, obviously, but I don't believe that this is the way to do it.
Because with this reasoning and current knowledge, it is also clear that if we refuse to see animals suffer, we must also reject the risk, although still dubious, to hurt the plants.

Will humans have to stop eating, in a way to no longer tolerate either animals or plants sufferings?
Of course not. However, we can reflect on the methods of production, and modify them to make them more respectful of plants and animals. This does not mean that I advocate organic farming. To me, it has nothing to do, and as I have already explained to you several times, methods of integrated production are at least as environmentally friendly, if not more, than the organic production methods.

This extreme humanization of all our production process is ridiculous in my opinion, and are an obstacle to progress towards a more sustainable agriculture. This is all the more ridiculous that in most cases it comes from those who are fighting against an anthropocentric worldview. But what is more anthropocentric than wanting to lend sensations and feelings of humans to animals?
This does not mean we can do anything. I advocate an integrated agriculture, ethical, productive and respectful of the people who depend on (workers and consumers), the surrounding populations and the environment.

In conclusion, I would like to take an excerpt from the conclusion of a work which I recommend you read the full (in French) entitled "Is there an equivalent of human pain in plants?"

"We have seen through our work that in an aggression, plants set up a defense system based on chain reactions. Although they have receptors, they do not have interpretive organs like the brain in the case of man. Now we have seen that in humans, the pain was modeled on the brain. So we can say that plants do not suffer according to the vision of the human being. Nevertheless we have to recognize that it is difficult to conceive of a different form of existence of pain, as our physiology is very different from those of plants or of some animals. Our thinking is somehow conditioned by our species, and trying to devise other modes of operation is more difficult. The plant could therefore perceive things that we can't even imagine. We developed the hypothesis that plants could suffer, if we consider pain as an essential element to the survival of the species. "

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