Would you eat meat that was grown in a lab? Many millions of dollars have been bet on the idea that you would. Memphis Meats, a company that hopes to produce competitively priced lab grown meat, has recently been given large investments by big names such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson. With the huge impact on our environment that modern animal husbandry can have, the UN estimates producing meat creates more greenhouse gases than all of our gas-powered vehicles combined, many environmentalists are praising the idea of lab-grown meat.
But many of you are wondering, “Is it real meat?”. And if it is, should vegetarians still be concerned?
The meat is grown from the cells of animals encouraged to reproduce without a larger animal attached. So, strictly speaking, yes. It is really animal tissue. It is also, generally, placed in a growth medium that is similar to what animals are exposed to at some point in their lives; the first publicly available lab meat was grown in a culture made with fetal calf serum.
But, is it real enough to mean that vegetarians cannot eat it?
Yes and no, it depends not only on who you ask but on why they choose not to eat meat.
Historically, many vegetarians have been dedicated to the idea of animal rights. Such thinkers as Peter Singer have argued that eating an animal is wrong along lines of feeling compassion for anything sentient or that can feel pain. For these people, eating meat that was never part of a larger living thing might prove more palatable.
More recently, an objection to eating meat has been for the effects on the environment of producing meat. With so much carbon output, degradation of soil, antibiotic use, and destruction of wildlife habitat having livestock production as a root cause, lab grown meat offers an alternative that is much more environmentally friendly.
However, some objections still remain unsolvable. In some Hindu philosophy, any food that came from an animal is viewed negatively. While the cells of a lab grown burger might never have been able to feel pain, their donor animal did. For these vegetarians, no amount of technological mastery will ever grant them a cutlet they can eat.
On an economic note, the high level of technological sophistication required to produce lab-grown meat may increase dependence on large corporations for the maintenance of the food supply. Something that many people find objectionable, and which grants a great deal of power to a small group of people.
And, of course, many people are still queasy about the idea of artificial meat.
Would you eat a lab grown steak? Fortunes have been bet on the idea that you would. But would you be willing to agree that a major ethical hurdle has been cleared? Perhaps, perhaps not.