“In vitro” lab-grown meat: the future of ethical meat-eating?


A week in to being a vegan and I haven’t been struggling at all with not eating meat…yet. Since my passion to go from being a full-blown carnivore to not wanting to have anything to do with meat or dairy stems from ethical and environmental reasons, it hasn’t been that hard to resist. However, those meaty flavors are what draws anyone in to eating meat, so I was wondering today if we made meat in a controlled lab setting, could that solve some of our global problems?

When I started researching online about lab-grown meat, it was more to see where progress was at with it as I knew that it was happening. I’ve seen a lot of mention of growing replacement body parts and organs of late (even a 3-D printed ear) so it seems logical that we can grow edible flesh using the same stem cells. The thinking here of course that you only need a few cells from an animal so it doesn’t need to sacrifice its life and the resulting meat has no nervous system therefore it cannot feel pain. If you must eat meat, I can see no other ethical option than this one.

The Wikipedia listing for “in vitro” meat is quite comprehensive and indicates that the process has been around for about 15 years and initially arose out of experiments NASA was doing for astronaut food in the 90’s. More recently, techniques are getting closer to simulating the taste and texture of real meat. CNN reports that several companies are saying they are ready to bring their research to a commercially viable product but they will require the infrastructure to bring the cost down which is prohibitively high right now. But it won’t be too long before the “engineered meat is likely to be more of a “niche” product, priced somewhere close to Kobe beef, which is currently around $125-$395 a kilo.”

Cost-aside, it is certainly heading in the right direction and while it will be a long process of getting people to accept eating manufactured meat, I reckon it is an inevitability. The meat industry is completely unsustainable and, “as well as animal welfare concerns over rearing large numbers of farm animals in close proximity, the water use, farmland for animal feed, waste and greenhouse-gas emissions associated with meat production make it one of the most significant environmental problems in the world today.” (CNN)

Ethically, I have no problem with this so long as animals aren’t harmed in the stem cell extraction process, and, the manufacturers of this product don’t go down the path of a Monsanto or other GMO-abusing companies whereby the resulting meat is compromised nutritionally or with safety concerns. Experts in tissue engineering indicate that since the meat is cultured in this manner, supposedly additional nutrients and things like Omega-3 could be added to it to make it more nutritional than regular meat. “Cultured meat could also reduce the pollution that results from raising livestock, and you wouldn’t need the drugs that are used on animals raised for meat.”

I think I would eat this meat if it passed food standards and suitability testing. However, there are a lot of purists (and by “purist” I mean anyone who is currently unwiling to drop meat from their diet) who will have a problem with the meat unless it looks, smells, tastes and feels like meat. Since we are in the early days of this tech, I reckon it’ll be possible to get there in due time. Hopefully we’ll get there soon enough to keep the world from succumbing to this desperate state we’ve put it in.

Until the frankenmeat comes, we’ll just have to stop eating meat and killing innocent animals, now won’t we? 😉

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