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On In Vitro “Meat”

Jason Matheny, lead author of a paper on "In Vitro-Cultured Meat Production" in the scientific journal Tissue Engineering, said (elsewhere):

“Consumers don't really have a sense of how meat is produced. They see the end product, which often bears no resemblance to the animal. What they care about is how the product tastes and whether
it's affordable. When people ask me if consumers will accept this kind
of meat, I think, ‘yes, look at what they already accept.’”

Good point.

I see no reason why people who already eat the flesh, hoofs, lips and sphincters of various nonhuman animals would have a problem eating a in vitro meat.

The In Vitro Meat Consortium tells us "Why In Vitro Meat?" and the reasons are laudable. Humans aren't going to stop eating meat anytime soon, and the way it's currently "produced" is inefficient in several ways and of course terrible for the environment. New Harvest, an organization developing the technology, says:

"Because meat substitutes are produced under controlled conditions
impossible to maintain in traditional animal farms, they can
be safer, more nutritious, less polluting, and more humane
than conventional meat."

Here are some FAQs, in case you're interested, and No, the process isn't animal-free, but no one must be killed for it. There has been debate about this for about four years, with animal welfare advocates pretty much coming down on the side of in vitro meat, and of course this includes PeTA, which offered $1 million to the first scientist to produce it and bring it to market." (Bring to market is a much higher benchmark than produce, by they way, which pushes the ETA for a reward a couple more years into the future, it would seem.)

The folks from Meat Alternatives do a lot of promoting of analogues, as you might imagine, but also in vitro meat (check out Future Food).

And I'm sure you've seen this by now, but if you're still anti cultured-meat, they take abolitionists to task with "Why Cultured Meat?" and link to Animal Rights sites and blogs (which does not include Animal Person, by the way).

What are your thoughts about in vitro meat?

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kula #

    I think the following paragraph is quite intersting…

    "Within several years, it may be possible to produce cultured meat in a processed form, like sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets, with modifications of existing technologies. Producing unprocessed meats, like steaks or pork chops, would involve technologies that do not yet exist and that may take a decade or longer to develop."

    So basically, within a few years they'll have developed 'processed' meats such as burgers and sausages. Would your average non-vegan be willing to eat these instead of the already existing vegan versions? If not, then we'll just have to wait a decade or so until they make fake 'steaks' or 'chops'.

    If in-vitro flesh will stop at least some people from consuming animals, it's certainly worth looking into. Although I would never eat any of it myself.

    February 9, 2009
  2. Dan #

    Wow Mary, two complicated, dilemma-strewn moral issues in two days. Yesterday, MDA; today, in vitro flesh. Shouldn’t we have taken a smiley break in between?

    I don’t know enough reliable facts about the development of the process or technology in terms of the role of nonhuman beings in it to make an informed decision at this time (because there are conflicting reports). Also, given the fact that we’re currently torturing and slaughtering 50 billion animals annually in the world now, the moral issue over development per se is only interesting from a purely theoretical moral standpoint, since practically over the next decade or two, the number of animals tortured and slaughtered will certainly rise (it’s expected to double over the next two or three decades as Asian markets for animal products dramatically increase), and scientists, with 100% certainty (barring world catastrophes), are going to try to develop this technology and bring it to market over the next two or three decades.

    So, I’m going to bypass the moral issue of development itself and whatever exploitation it entails (because 1- I don’t know enough about it; 2- it’s another topic altogether; and 3- because it’s practically moot since no moral arguments will likely stop it before scientists know it is either successful or not) and go straight to the hypothetical situation of humans having, in the year 2040, an abundance of in vitro flesh mass-produced and mass-marketed on a huge commercial scale that involves no animal exploitation.

    Under that scenario of no exploitation, although I won’t eat the stuff myself for the same reason I wouldn’t eat human in vitro flesh, I would not have a problem with others consuming it. I don’t think past moral transgressions are reasons to avoid a current product that itself involves no exploitation. If the Nazis found cured some disease and in the process of finding the cure, tortured humans, I don’t think subsequently using the cure is immoral (although I do think it is immoral to torture someone without their consent even if you know you will find the cure by doing so). It is important to note that, again, although I wouldn’t consume human in vitro flesh myself, I wouldn’t have a problem if non-exploitive human flesh was produced and consumed. This is important because it points out that my view is not speciesist. My view is merely that where there is no exploitation, there is no serious moral issue. In consuming in vitro flesh, human or nonhuman, you are not consuming a former someone, but a something. It is difficult to distinguish morally between vegan meat substitutes and non-exploitive in vitro flesh.

    February 9, 2009
  3. Ken #

    I am against in vitro meat. Simulated nonhuman exploitation promotes real nonhuman exploitation in the same way that a racist video game promotes actual racism.

    February 9, 2009
  4. Dan #


    First, it is a biological substance that is 'simulated', not exploitation.

    Second, would you be against human in vitro flesh? If so, why?

    February 9, 2009
  5. I'd pass. I don't feel there's a single thing missing from my diet – I'm well fed, like the taste of my food and feel great… If nothing is lacking – there's no reason to change my eating habits. Besides, it would be consuming flesh – I'm definately not a flesh eater. For me, in any form, it would be "yucky".

    Still, if it helps to eventually dismantle the animal ag/slaughter system – I'm all for it.

    But what's funny though… is don't these people see how ridiculous their "meat obsession" is? All this effort to maintain their crude habits? On a grand scale when we consider a child dies from starvation every 5 seconds – "meat"… invitro or not just looks like gluttony to me.

    February 9, 2009
  6. John Carbonaro #

    I was intrigued by Dan's comment regarding invitro meat when he said that we are not consuming a former someone, but a something. I had read an article about genetically engineering livestock for certain "advantages'- breeding the fear out of animals..etc. But what intrigued/disturbed me most was the notion of genetically engineering animals to be born without fully functioning brains. No awareness, no self, no someone,no suffering… no moral issue? Would we create 'partial' humans to raise 'organ banks"? Where do we decide the line is between the someone and the something.

    February 9, 2009
  7. Ken #

    I don’t think there would be any market for human in vitro flesh. While the practice of cannibalism may exist, it’s certainly infinitesimal when compared with the number of cows, pigs, birds, etc. that humans consume. So, yes, if cannibalism was a much more popular practice than it currently is, I would be very concerned that human in vitro flesh marketed as food would reinforce and perpetuate the acceptability of eating real humans. I have a similar concern about nonhuman in vitro flesh (and to some extent vegan meat substitutes as well) perpetuating the acceptability of eating nonhumans. I find the whole concept of mock meat to be disturbing, and I no longer consume it.
    I don’t see a problem using human in vitro flesh for the purposes of medical experimentation and training health care professionals, assuming that informed consent was obtained from any humans that were used in the course of it’s development. I don’t think you can obtain such consent from a nonhuman animal.

    February 10, 2009
  8. Ken #

    Shortly after turning off my computer and going to bed I thought of a couple things I wanted to add to my last comment. I agree with you that in vitro meat simulates a biological substance. What I consider to be simulated exploitation is the act of eating in vitro meat.
    To further explain my concern, let me try to further explain my previous video game comparison. Obviously it's a good thing if a racist ceases killing real people. If killing virtual people in a video game satisfies him instead of killing real people, that may seem like a good solution. However, playing the racist video game does nothing to address the underling problem, the source of his behavior, which is his racism. In fact the game reinforces and perpetuates his racist attitudes. It doesn't take much–boredom with the game, his computer crashing–for him to revert to killing real people. Eating In viro meat and mock meats is fine to the extent that it helps some people go vegan and remain vegan, but it I don't think that eating mock chicken helps in any way to educate the consumer that eating real chicken is wrong. In fact I think it does the opposite.
    I would be more than happy if my concerns prove to be exaggerated or altogether wrong. But until then, I think the comparisons I've cited are valid

    February 10, 2009
  9. *Bottom Line*
    As far as my advocacy is concerned, in vitro flesh changes nothing. The vegan movement is indispensable regardless. Even with rapid market dominance of in vitro flesh products, nonhumans will still need their basic rights secured (still need legal personhood). Adding in vitro mammal milk and bird eggs to the equation wouldn't change my resolve or underlying approach either. Speciesist exploitation takes myriad forms — beyond "meat", beyond food. Also, without dismantling speciesism, it strikes me as highly improbable that in vitro flesh would ever totally replace the traditional systematic murder of nonhumans for their flesh.

    *Finer Points*
    The plant kingdom is amazing. It already easily provides the sustenance and nutrition humans need, right now. Not only that, but plant-based foods can satisfy anyone's inner hedonist (oil, sugar, salt = vegan). Moreover, often disturbingly accurate plant-based mock/faux versions of many nonvegan foods are currently available. People are continually experimenting with and improving upon these near facsimiles. There are products, today, that can make nonvegans believe they are eating "beef", ice cream, and so on.

    Potential problems with in vitro flesh achieving widespread adoption…
    (1) Waiting for an entity to offer substantial and sustained financial backing.

    (2) Trouble advertising/marketing a product that will strike many as very creepy.

    (3) {because of point 2} Need to at least price match nonhuman flesh (which benefits from subsidies and the massive economy of scale).

    (4) {because of point 2} Probable need to undercut the price of nonhuman flesh.

    (5) Difficulty offering products corresponding to the many different species of mammals, fish, and birds that humans exploit.

    (6) Difficulty producing convincing bones, skin, blood, different "cuts", "fat marbling", and other aspects of corpse parts.

    (7) Some kind of "real food" counter movement/mentality, supported or initiated by the traditional industries.

    (8) {exacerbated by points 5&6} Getting anyone to eat in vitro flesh exclusively. The health and environmental arguments will be conducive only to eating less nonhuman flesh, not none. The ethical argument, whether from the corporate sellers or "animal advocates", will essentially just be vegetarianism, even if not by name.

    This thing seems to represents yet another single-issue focus (on "meat") capable of distracting/bogging down advocates and misdirecting onlookers. I suspect PETA et al. could easily get wrapped up with the in vitro phenomenon for decades (might provide good VICTORY! fodder). They, being consequentialists, wont even have to worry about whether or not nonhuman individuals must be exploited to obtain fresh "starter cells".

    February 10, 2009
  10. Dan #


    I think your arguments regarding in vitro and mock meats encouaging speciesism are plausible, perhaps more true of some people than others, but I'm not convinced that enjoyment of certain tastes and textures tends toward or indicates speciesism.


    Excellent points. In vitro flesh (or other animal products) will not decrease speciesism and will in no way alter our vegan advocacy/activism.

    February 10, 2009
  11. Dan #


    Sentience is the criterion for distinguishing someone from something, but it has the same line-drawing question.

    February 10, 2009
  12. Here's an update on Jason Matheny's project:

    Apparently one can have a burger of vat flesh now… it will just cost thousands. But I do have the answer now, when people say so many livestock producers will be out of work. According to Beef Magazine: “perhaps the future farmers of America are microbiologists rather than cattle ranchers.” Now that's a future I could look forward to. 🙂

    May 19, 2009

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