Who Wants Test-Tube Meat?

Sonja Puzic, for CTVNews.ca, asks: Would you eat meat grown in a test tube?

When a Dutch scientist declared last month that he could have the world’s first lab-grown hamburger on the grill by October, the Internet was abuzz with “Frankenmeat” discussions….

I’m quoted in the story, noting that the effectiveness of lab-grown meat as a solution to the ethical objections to raising animals depends, naturally enough, on the specific nature of your ethical objections. If your main objection to animal agriculture has to do with animal welfare, or the environment, then lab-grown meat sounds great. If your objection is rather the consumption of animal flesh per se, or to the industrialization of food, then growing meat in a vat isn’t going to satisfy you. That much is pretty obvious.

The more interesting point, I think, has to do with in vitro (lab-grown) meat as a kind of enabling technology. That is, some people may be worried not about “plain” in vitro meat, but about the far-out creations the in vitro meat process might enable. The most obvious possibilities have to do with genetic modification. Once you can grow meat in a lab — grow a vat of meat from just a few cells — then it becomes pretty tempting to do some genetic tinkering. You can imagine lots of reasons for such tinkering: improved nutrition, improved taste, or improved growth rates. But lots of people have objections to such tinkering, either because they worry about the risk of unintended consequences, or because they think it’s some sort of violation of nature.

(Some have made the same point about in vitro fertilization in humans. The worry, they say, is not so much the technology itself, or its most basic uses, but the more controversial procedures — including human genetic modifications — it could enable in the future.)

So in other words, the ethical worries about in vitro meat aren’t all worries about producing or consuming the meat itself.

By the way, though Puzic didn’t ask me directly, my answer is “yes.” Yes, I would eat lab-grown meat, or at least try it!
I’ve blogged about the ethics of in vitro meat before, including:

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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