Millennium Post

Making space for empathy

It is prerogative of humanity as a sentient race to consider the unvoiced thoughts and needs of those that share this earth with us — we must never fail in showing compassion to our non-human neighbours in pursuit of our own interests

Making space for empathy

Do plants feel pain?

The scientific community is just beginning to recognise plants' advanced capabilities, and we now know that they experience a variety of sensations. They can close or open up to avoid an attack or to await rain, for instance. Studies show that plants can feel a touch as light as a caterpillar's footsteps and send out signals—similar to those sent by the human body—to warn their other leaves to release bad-tasting chemicals to deter damaging insects. Studies show that plants also communicate with one another; share medicinal compounds with other plants through their roots, an underground fungal network, and the air; release pheromones; see, hear, smell, and react to dangers in the environment via sensing proteins; pass knowledge on to younger plants; and more.

Just as at one time, many people did not realise that octopuses—whose nervous systems differ significantly from that of humans and other animals—are extremely intelligent and sensitive to pain, plants may have intelligence and sentience that humans cannot yet detect. Perhaps one day, we will learn that they have ways of experiencing pain that we have yet to comprehend.

Whether or not that's the case, there is no need to harm plants unnecessarily. While we must eat to survive, we can harm fewer plants by going vegan, because eating plants directly, rather than feeding them to animals and then killing those animals for their flesh, requires far fewer plants and hurts fewer animals who, we already know for sure, feel pain. Cows, for example, must consume 16 pounds of vegetation to yield 1 pound of flesh, so by being vegan, we save many more plants' lives than if we ate meat. And of course, vegans also save nearly 200 animals every year—living, feeling beings who, scientists now know beyond a shadow of a doubt, experience the full range of sensations and emotions, including pain, discomfort, fear, and sadness.

Whether it can be proved that plants experience pain or not, vegan foods are the compassionate choice because they require the deaths of fewer plants and animals.

Medical research often involves animal testing, what are alternatives to it?

Using cadavers, computer simulators and human clinical and epidemiological studies are faster, more reliable, less expensive and more humane than using animal tests. Ingenious scientists have used human brain cells to develop a model "micro brain" that can be used to study tumours. They have also developed artificial skin and artificial bone marrow. We can now test irritancy on egg membranes, perform pregnancy tests by using blood samples instead of killing rabbits and produce vaccines from cell cultures. As Gordon Baxter, co-founder of Pharmagene Laboratories (a company that uses only human tissues and computers to develop and test drugs), says, "If you have information on human genes, what's the point of going back to animals?"

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