Ethics, Ideology, & Synthetic Meat

See this blog entry (at The Atlantic) by James McWilliams, Eating (Synthetic) Animals

…one issue to which concerned consumers have generally turned a tin ear is “in-vitro meat.” Although the cost is currently prohibitive, the technology is widely available to produce meat from the cultured cells of animals rather than the animals themselves. Also called “cultured meat” or “synthetic meat,” this product, which supporters promise will have comparable taste to conventional meat, has enormous potential to confront the environmental and ethical concerns that so many agnostic carnivores find troubling. Speaking for the Humane Society of the United States, Paul Shapiro, senior director of the group’s Factory Farming Campaign, explained in an e-mail that “in vitro meat has the potential to prevent an enormous amount of suffering….”

Who, exactly, opposes synthetic meat? McWilliams writes:

In one of the stranger cases of mortal enemies waking up as snug bedfellows, advocates of sustainable agriculture appear to agree with agribusiness that in vitro meat should be kept off the radar screen of our culinary future. Their reasons are revealing. And troubling….

As McWilliams goes on to point out, the objections are mostly incoherent. Interestingly, McWilliams suggests that, at heart, the objections are ideological:

The knowledge that science and technology could have the potential to fundamentally redefine (and improve) the very agricultural tradition that so many organizations are designed to protect is knowledge we can hardly expect interested parties to evaluate in fair terms. My guess is that it probably terrifies them.

I do believe he’s hit the nail on the head.

(p.s. I taught McWilliams’ book, Just Food, in a senior seminar on food ethics last term. Very good.)

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.
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