Let’s organize a One Million Cow March on the Capitol.

The New York Times editorial board has an interesting reaction to PETA’s announcement of a $1 million prize to anyone who can produce commercially-viable in vitro chicken-meat by June 30, 2012. (The requirements are strict; it’s unlikely anyone could possibly meet this deadline.) Consider:

We are disgusted by the conventional meat industry in this country, which raises animals — especially chicken and pigs — in inhumane confinement systems that cause significant environmental damage. There is every reason to change the way meat is produced, to make it more ethical, more humane. …

So far, so good. But there has to be a “but”.

… But the result of the technology that PETA hopes to reward could be the end of domesticated farm animals. This has often seemed as if it were the logical conclusion of some radical animal-rights activists: better for animals not to exist at all if there is a chance that they would suffer.

I doubt seriously we’d see the end of domesticated farm animals, even in a world where everyone went vegan. Existing endangered-species legislation suggests we’d take an unkind view to complete extinction. And given that such a world will never exist, this fear is particularly worthless.

Nor is it particularly radical to suggest that it’s better for an animal not to exist than for it to suffer. I’ll temporarily pretend that the inevitable slaughter of the animal does not qualify as suffering. The “happy meat” argument in favor of Humane-Certified is different from the majority of animal agriculture in the United States today. Assuming “happy meat” animals will suffer only at their end, most animals raised for food will suffer throughout their lives. That warrants a discussion, even if the eventual answer is to default to the status quo.

This is not an adequate defense:

We prefer a more measured approach. Ensure the least possible cruelty to animals, by all means, and raise them in ways that are both ethical and environmentally sound. …

Again, so far, so good. Even for those who disagree because they prefer an abolitionist approach, this is better than nothing. But there has to be a “but”.

… But also treasure the cultural and historical bond between humans and domesticated animals. Historically speaking, they exist only because of the uses we have found for them, and preserving their existence means, in most cases, preserving the uses we have made for them. …

This is a ridiculous defense, but I’ll defer to Erik Marcus, where I found the link:

You know: the cultural and historical bond that involves one party cutting the other party’s throat. Yeah, let’s treasure that. …

As I implied earlier, treasuring the bond does not require death. For other species, we requires letting the species live, to the detriment of nearly every other consideration. That may be right, or it may be wrong. In the debate the costs of protection must be considered. But existing evidence undermines the “slaughter or extinction” nonsense.

At least they didn’t say that animals want us to eat them.