Post-humane Agriculture

At the Centre for Unconscious Farming, decerebrated chickens would be densely packed in networks that manage the intake of sustenance and the excretion of waste. Photo: André Ford

In the Architecture Department of the Royal College of Art, student André Ford has designed a system for manufacturing broiler chickens in what he calls “The Centre for Unconscious Farming.”  According to Ford’s vision, the chickens would be decerebrated to remove all sensory functions while homeostatic processes continue.  Their feet are then removed and their bodies stacked in enormous “leaves” of scaffolding.  They would be connected to a network that provides nourishment and removes waste, while electric shocks induce muscle growth.

Ford’s comments are provocatively ambiguous about the intent of the project. In his comments to Wired.co.uk, he implies that the project lays bare the current “realities” of meat manufacturing:

The realities of the existing systems of production are just as shocking, but they are hidden behind the sentimental guise of traditional farming scenes that we as consumers hold in our minds and see on our food packaging.

That said, he proposes that the legitimacy of the system be determined, in true neo-liberal fashion, by the authority of consumer choice.

There are numerous differences between the current dominant production systems and the one I am proposing, but the fundamental difference is the removal of suffering. Whether what I am proposing is an appropriate means to achieve the removal of suffering is open to interpretation. In reality this should be decided at the level of the individual consumer, at the counter, handing over their money and ‘voting’ for their system of preference.

Over at We Make Money Not Art, he outlines the disturbing semantic considerations that underlie his system:

I think it is time we stopped using the term ‘animal’ when referring to the precursor of the meat that ends up on our plates. Animals are things we keep in our homes and watch on David Attenborough programs. ‘Animals’ bred for consumption are crops and agricultural products like any other. We do not, and cannot, provide adequate welfare for these agricultural products and therefore welfare should be removed entirely.

Refusing the term “animal” points to the intensely technologized system of modern farming.

The project is overtly a hybridisation of nature and machine which is how I see the future of farming. Unfortunately, there is very little that is natural about the way the our food is currently produced. The monocultures and intensive farming systems upon which we rely are technological landscapes, harvested and processed using high-tech, and increasingly robotised machinery.

“As long as their brain stem is intact, the homeostatic functions of the chicken will continue to operate. By removing the cerebral cortex of the chicken, its sensory perceptions are removed. It can be produced in a denser condition while remaining alive, and oblivious. The feet will also be removed so the body of the chicken can be packed together in a dense volume. Food, water and air are delivered via an arterial network and excreta is removed in the same manner. Around 1000 chickens will be packed into each ‘leaf’, which forms part of a moving, productive system.” Photo: André Ford

While Wired draws a parallel between Ford’s work and the human farms of The Matrix, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is perhaps more appropriate.  Crake’s genetically altered ChickieNobs, masses of living breastmeat or drumsticks with no head parts at all, are a response to the demands of a thoroughly technocratic industrial capitalism as well as a non-ethics of welfareless welfare.  It is a post-humane solution: it satisfies the humanistic aspirations to ease or “remove” suffering, though it does so in an entirely nihilistic manner, through an attempt to remove the capacity for suffering in the first place.

What the factory farming system, with its erasure of the animal, allows us to forget is the fact that these creatures are labourers, something that Donna Haraway so poignantly reminds us in When Species Meet.

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