After listening to a recent interview on Fresh Air about advances in growing meat from animal stem cells for human consumption, I realized I was pretty ignorant about the subject. Although I don’t think I would be part of the consumer market for these products, I do find the debate intriguing. On the one hand, there are the predictable ethical and health concerns that opponents argue: the long-term consequences on the human body, the moral implications of bioengineering organisms, economic degradation to small-scale and organic farmers, etc. But the proponents actually make a compelling case on the subject, emphasizing the benefits of this technology, such as the dissolution of factory farming and its ethical, environmental, and adverse health impacts. Imagine, the eradication of mad-cow, swine and bird flu, e-coli contamination, and improvement to the welfare of millions of livestock.
In-vitro meat (IVM) is still in its early stages (the largest sample grown so far is [tasteless] beef the size of a contact lens), so don’t expect to see it in supermarkets anytime soon. But when the time comes, will it be any worse than all of the chemically, flavor-enhanced foods that are ubiquitous in the American diet? I also wonder how strict vegetarians and vegans will classify this meat. If it can’t be quantified as a living, breathing animal in the traditional sense, does that negate the ethical argument against consuming animal flesh?