Would You Like Your Synthetic Meat GM or Non-GM?

This news story is not exactly news. We already know that synthetic meat is under development in various labs around the world. But it does raise a fresh issue or two.

By Harriet McLeo, for Reuters: South Carolina scientist works to grow meat in lab

In a small laboratory on an upper floor of the basic science building at the Medical University of South Carolina, Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., has been working for a decade to grow meat.

A developmental biologist and tissue engineer, Dr. Mironov, 56, is one of only a few scientists worldwide involved in bioengineering “cultured” meat.

It’s a product he believes could help solve future global food crises resulting from shrinking amounts of land available for growing meat the old-fashioned way … on the hoof.

Growth of “in-vitro” or cultured meat is also under way in the Netherlands, Mironov told Reuters in an interview, but in the United States, it is science in search of funding and demand.

Interestingly, the scientist at the centre of this story raises the question of genetic modification. Genetic modification isn’t a necessary part of making synthetic meat, but it might be useful in tailoring the meat in various ways:

“It will be functional, natural, designed food,” Mironov said. “How do you want it to taste? You want a little bit of fat, you want pork, you want lamb? We design exactly what you want. We can design texture.

“I believe we can do it without genes. But there is no evidence that if you add genes the quality of food will somehow suffer. Genetically modified food is already normal practice and nobody dies.”

So, are there people out there who would be in favour of synthetic meat but against genetically-modified synthetic meat?

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in animal welfare, biotechnology, ethics, genes, GMO, industrial, meat, natural, science, synthetic meat, values. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Would You Like Your Synthetic Meat GM or Non-GM?

  1. Anastasia says:

    ha! I bet there are!

  2. Erin H. says:

    I do not think so. I believe that people will not like the alternative to GM meat to be synthetic meat. Specifically because of the issue of not wanting to purchase or buy “Franken-food” that the consumers are very strong willed towards will not mean that they will like their meat grown in a lab. The outraged consumer towards genetically modified foods was the fact that it was not natural and that the food was altered from its original state. “Franken-food” became a big concern for the consumers. Many questions were asked if there would be a health risk to consumers. Now most consumers will not purchase genetically modified foods, thus requiring no GMO labels placed on food items.

    Synthetic food you would think would be no different. The big difference is that it is not altering an existing food item it is grown from a lab completely. If consumers thought GMO’s were “Franken-foods” then synthetic food would be the ultimate Frankenstein. I think more consumers would be outraged to know that nothing about the synthetic meat is natural. Health risks would still be a huge issue, no matter how many tests and studies were run. In today’s society of “foodies” consumers are more interested in their food being grown naturally and organically. Synthetic is the whole other end of the spectrum that is, exactly the opposite of what consumers are saying they want. Consumers love to purchase natural, organic, free range, non-confinement animals that are producing meat in a natural and happy way. Synthetic lab grown meat is not the answer to the all natural organic wants of the consumers.

    • Erin:

      Of course, consumers also love to buy hotdogs. And there’s not much “natural” about those.

      But more generally, there’s nothing ethically compelling about the word “natural.” Lots of natural things are dangerous and unhealthy, and lots of artificial things are good for you. So you may be right that consumers will want to avoid “unnatural” synthetic meat. But I’m curious whether there’s any good reason for them to avoid it.


  3. Maria Jackson says:

    The idea of in-vitro meat brings forth thoughts of dystopias where seemingly innocuous biotechnology aids in the destruction of humankind (for example, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake). When reading such biotechnology innovations in novels they seem so far-fetched and horrific and then you read about them in the news and they slowly transition from horror to unquestioned consumer reality. There are many ethical issues that arise with the consumption of meat; should we produce meat when we could produce grain and there are hungry people in the world, should meat be produced given that it can be environmentally damaging, is it alright to genetically modify meat, should we eat animals at all? These are just a few examples of the ethical problems that arise for meat consumers. The invention of in-vitro meat is brilliant; it allows humans to avoid most ethical problems associated with meat consumption while still allowing us to consume our favorite meal – the hamburger. However, it is simply avoidance, although it helps to ‘solve’ a few ethical conundrums it creates many more. In a time when many consumers are pushing to get back to the root of agriculture through sustainable, organic and local food movements I find it interesting that in-vitro meat would arise as a viable option. In general I do not think that people that that are skeptical of GMO’s would willingly accept in-vitro meat based on their foundational arguments of, humans probably should not be taking on the role of creator and because of the unknown outcomes.

    • Maria:

      Thanks for your comment.
      You suggest that while synthetic meat “helps to ‘solve’ a few ethical conundrums it creates many more”. But you don’t point to any of them. Can you clarify?


      • Maria Jackson says:

        One problem would be, should we as humans create a food that is so far removed from being anything natural. Additionally, should we continue to remove ourselves from the natural world or would it be healthier (and perhaps more ethical) of us to return to closer more respectful interactions with nature (for example moving towards small sustainable mixed farms where animals are an integral and respected part of the agriculture system and away from intense conventional farming). Also, what will the unintended consequences be of this new invention? Will they be unethical?

  4. I think synthetic meat is an excellent idea for meat consumers, because it’s a known fact that the meat industry is the number one contributor to global warming, not only that but the amount of land, food, and water that is ‘wasted’ on these animals that are only viewed as products to benefit humans, and to abolish such a harming contributor, would be phenomenally beneficial to do otherwise would be appalling. I’m baffled to see so many people object to synthetic meat, when all along isn’t it ideal to not have to take the life of a living sentient being, just to satisfy some tastebuds? These are living, breathing, thinking, emotional beings, that in reality shouldn’t be utilised for human benefit and satisfaction, aren’t they warranted bodily rights and integrity simply because they’re sentient beings, they may not be of equal value as humans (Some may say), but why dose that warrant us dominion over them? I don’t believe it’s a rational or reasonable conclusion to compare qualities, and conclude that they are ‘not our equal value’. So many people explain that ‘they are not of equal value, therefor we can use them as product to benefit us’, how are they not equal? What is equal? Who determines the spectrums of equality? If they aren’t ‘equal’, why is they’re equal value even considered? Why does that make it ok to use them? How is it ok? Who determines that it’s ok? None of these questions are ever answered, yet so many people subject themselves to consuming the products of once living or living beings that are viewed as tools of a product, and not the living, breathing, feeling, emotional being it actually is.

    Synthetic meat not only abolishes the number one cause of environmental damage, it also withdraws society from subjecting animals to unethical procedure. I’m aware some, even most farming practices to produce meat, meets and can even exceed welfare standards, but that’s not to say its ethical all together to even utilise an animal’s life for their flesh. Synthetic meat could also reduce health risks associated with animal flesh consumption, all though I cannot elaborate, as I’m not sure if they have eliminated the harming elements of animal flesh in the synthetic version.

    Considering the assumption that this procedure is conducted by hundreds of scientist over duration of a considerably high amount of years and field of science and knowledge, it is expected that a high amount of concern and consideration is conducted in assuring a health-risk free product. I can confidently say that a scientist would consider the objections to such a product as it is highly important to consider them, and the health risks involved would have a high, even the highest amount of consideration. So to neglect and scrutinize a product by criticising it’s health risks, would be a bit irrational, as it is hundreds of scientist perfecting this product with the main drive of ensuring it’s long term side effects are minimal to none.

  5. Samantha:

    Thanks for your comment.
    I think a lot remains to be seen. Synthetic meat seems promising, but whether it can be made a) healthy and b) tasty in a way that is environmentally-better than meat is still an open question. I’m optimistic, like you are. But you’re right that the one clear advantage would be in terms of reduction in cruelty.


  6. I’m happy to do without meat altogether, especially artificial meat, which sounds wrong. All this trouble to make synthetic meat when it’s so simple to just not eat any at all, and maybe it’s also healthier. I have been vegetarian for 24 years, and am perhaps going to go vegan soon. Anyone else want to give it a try before you put in vitro fake meat in your mouth?

    Peace all,

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