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Pain or No Pain?

Professor Christine Nicol explores the meaty problem of eating aliens and how to choose. Jake the spaceman crashes on a planet and has to eat the locals. Do they feel pain?

In this 4 part series Christine Nicol, professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Bristol, explores the fascinating and challenging subject of animal sentience and welfare. To help delve into the nuances we set up an intriguing scenario, Jake the Spaceman (aka comedian Jake Yapp) has crash-landed on a remote planet and doesn't have much food to keep him going until he is rescued. Fortunately, the planet is teeming with alien life forms that are edible, but which ones should he eat?

He wants to cause the minimum amount of pain and distress to the creatures, so what does he need to know about the nature of the beings on the planet? Can they feel pain? If so, how can he minimise suffering? Will eating an alien cause distress to others? Is the alien so aware and sensitive to its environment that Jake needs to consider whether it is a non-human person?

Christine will interview animal welfare scientists, philosophers and wildlife biologists to get under the skin of animal sentience and the potential consequences of accepting that animals are conscious, aware creatures. These big questions generate surprising and challenging insights into our attitudes to other life. When you know absolutely nothing about the alien in front of you, what do you need to know before eating it?

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28 minutes

Professor Brian Key

Professor Brian Key
Brian Key is the Head of the Brain Growth and Regeneration Lab at the University of Queensland. The lab is dedicated to understanding the principles of stem cell biology, differentiation, axon guidance, plasticity, regeneration and development of the brain.


In addition, he oversees the teaching of Developmental Biology in the Science curriculum at the University of Queensland. Brian teaches developmental biology at all levels of the undergraduate experience.

Professor Georgia Mason

Professor Georgia Mason
Georgia Mason is a Professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. She is widely recognised as a world authority on stereotypic behaviour, such as repetitive or ritualistic movements such as body rocking, and was the first to use a multi-species, comparative approach to addressing animal welfare questions. She is interested in how scientists can ascertain what, if anything, animals are feeling. 

In 2015, she received a Medal for Outstanding Contributions from the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare for her research across a range of species; for increasing understanding of the relationships between animal husbandry and animal welfare; and for being a role model and mentor to the next generation of animal welfare scientists.

Professor David Mellor

Professor David Mellor
Professor David Mellor is from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He has led the development and subsequent refinement of the Five Domains model of animal welfare – a model that covers all aspects of animal welfare including nutrition, environment, health, behaviour and the animal’s mental state, both negative and positive. The model has recently been adopted as a key element of the Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare strategies across the world.

Along with Professor Georgia Mason, Mellor was awarded the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare medal in 2015 – becoming one of only nine scientists in the world to receive the award.

Professor Mike Mendl

Professor Mike Mendl
Mike Mendl, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Bristol, is a leading animal welfare researcher and has studied a wide range of species including companion, farm and laboratory animals. He is a pioneer in the study of ‘cognitive bias’, investigating the links between cognition, consciousness and emotion in animals. His applied work, for example on factors affecting aggression and tail-biting in pigs, has also yielded knowledge of practical benefit to improving welfare.

His exceptional achievements in the advancement of animal welfare over many years were when he was awarded the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare for outstanding contributions to animal welfare science in 2014, and the 2015 RSPCA/BSAS award for Innovative Developments in Animal Welfare.

Professor Peter Singer

Professor Peter Singer
Peter Singer is often described as the world’s most influential living philosopher. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and in 2013 he was third in the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute’s ranking of Global Thought Leaders.

He is known especially for his work on the ethics of our treatment of animals, for his controversial critique of the sanctity of life ethics in bioethics, and for his writing on the obligations of the affluent to aid those living in extreme poverty. He first became well-known internationally after the publication of Animal Liberation in 1975. In 2011, Time included Animal Liberation on its “All-TIME” list of the 100 best non-fiction books published in English since the magazine began, in 1923.

Picture: Denise Applewhite - Princeton University

Dr Lynne Sneddon

Dr Lynne Sneddon
Dr Lynne Sneddon is Director of Bioveterinary Science at the University of Liverpool. She works to understand mechanisms of behaviour by addressing questions around aggression, dominance-subordinate relationships and nociception - the encoding and processing of harmful stimuli in the nervous system - and the way these are influenced by environmental stress and adaptation.

Her studies are aimed at enhancing our understanding of the genes involved in the mechanisms of aggressive behaviour.

Dr James Yeates

Dr James Yeates
James is RSPCA Chief Veterinary Officer. He undertook a PhD at Bristol University in animal welfare and ethics and was previously chair of the British Veterinary Association Ethics and Welfare Group.

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