Facial Recognition for Cows: Cargill Invests in Cainthus, an Irish Predictive Imaging Startup

Cainthus, an Irish predictive imaging startup, believes facial recognition for cows is the future of food. And Cargill seems to agree! Last week, Cargill announced they would be investing an undisclosed amount in the company, which uses artificial intelligence to determine the health of dairy cows (among other things).

Cainthus’ specializations include both crop and livestock health analytics. While Cargill’s announcement focuses on their livestock monitoring capabilities, Cainthus seems to be making great strides in detecting plant health as well. Personally, I find the crop monitoring more interesting, simply because I see animals as a gaping hole in the efficiency of food production. And no matter how efficient we become at determining the health and food needs of animals, they will always be the greatest obstacle standing in the way of profit and productivity.

Cainthus’ Livestock Monitoring is a Band-Aid on a Hopelessly Flawed System

As I’ve discussed in the past, economics favours the removal of animals from our food supply. While plants work efficiently with the sun and soil to produce food. Very little energy is lost, and little waste is produced. Some plants (including most legumes) are nitrogen-fixing, essentially meaning that they produce their own fertilizer.

Animals, on the other hand, waste energy – no matter how hard we try to curtail this process by limiting their movements and otherwise making their lives miserable. They also produce waste in large quantities. And while some of this waste can be used to grow crops, animals create more waste than we need, and the excess pollutes groundwater and threatens our oceans.

As a result, Cainthus’ livestock monitoring technology can’t help be anything more than a band-aid on a hopelessly flawed system. No matter how healthy cows are, they will continue to eat, move, breathe, and eliminate.

Animal Welfare Matters

On the bright side, there are some signs that Cainthus’ technology could improve the welfare of animals on factory farms. The facial recognition software tracks animals and can help determine if they are lame, how they are eating, and their activity. There’s no question that animal health is important, both for farmers and to the animals themselves.

I recently heard through an episode of the Paw & Order Podcast (a great podcast about Animal Law in Canada) about a dreadful case here in Canada, where inspectors arrived at a farm to discover that 1265 pigs had died of starvation and neglect (hundreds more had to be euthanized later). Of course, the technology Cainthus won’t prevent farmers from mistreating animals.┬áBut it will allow conscientious producers to better gauge the health and welfare of the animals under their care.

Many people in the animal rights community disparage any efforts that fall short of total animal liberation. They are wrong. The belief that animal welfare measures simply give aid and comfort to animal abusers is as ridiculous as it is unethical. Claiming animals must continue to suffer unspeakable misery in the belief that animal welfare efforts somehow hamper the advance of veganism is just wrong. Because while I want to see animals removed from the food system, I also believe that some forms of suffering are worse than others. It would be like refusing to allow women the vote until they could simultaneously be guaranteed equal pay for equal work.

Generally speaking, these things take time. It makes no sense to wait for perfection until acting. In my view, as people who care about animal rights, we should do what we can to make the lives of animals better in the near term, while continuing to work on freeing animals in the long term. The two cannot and should not be mutually exclusive.

 

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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