Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 14

Ethan Li Carolyn Ross PWR 1CR 06/14/2013 The Ethical Implications of Lab-Grown Meat In the future, we will have

abolished factory farms. The world population will have continued growing against the warnings of population ecologists such as Paul Ehrlich. Many families that currently practice vegetarianism because of their economic situation will have attained the affluence to purchase animal flesh, and they will continue to increase the global demand for meat. To meet this demand, scientists, inspired by biomedical projects that grow human organs and tissues to address the scarcity of organ donors, will have perfected a set of technologies that produce meat without animal cruelty. These in vitro meats, also known as cultured meats, will be made cheaply, cleanly, and nutritionally. They will have successfully avoided the fears of bland nutrient mixtures common in present-day science fiction, but in vitro meat will be just as processed and disconnected from ecological systems, if not more. This extensive processing will be necessary to ensure food security for everyone, and it will be justified by animal welfare arguments. Cultured meat promises a utopia with none of the current ethical problems of factory farming. Despite this promise, many people have an immediate feeling of disgust to the idea. Although in vitro meat seems to be acceptable by the standards of popular ethical frameworks, the persistence of uncomfortable emotions prompts exploration of the philosophical questions it raises. Much of the motivation to develop ways of food production to replace meat factory farming methods is in reaction to the problems that result from factory farms. At the individual scale, these 1

Ethan Li

farms stress workers psychologically and immunologically, and they cause great suffering to animals from birth to death. At the local scale, factory farms which concentrate animals in small areas release pollution and disease into the water, the soil, and the air. At the global scale, they foster antibiotic resistance in pathogens, use significant amounts of energy, and generate greenhouse gases (Pluhar 456-459). Many other arguments for vegetarianism and veganism also criticize meat as it is currently produced. These include the high intensity of plant-based protein and thus of energy needed to raise meat animals, and the concentration of pesticide and herbicide toxins from feed into animal flesh. Some are skeptical that significant numbers of omnivores could be persuaded to switch to vegetarianism or veganism, however (Pluhar 456-461). This concern becomes especially salient because world population growth and the expansion of the affluent class and of urban areas will continue to increase the global demand for meat. At the same time, sustainable animal farming holds little promise to feed the hundreds of millions of people without access to affordable food while the global population increases with the support of industrial farming (Specter). Advocates of cultured meat look to the technology as a way to produce meat at large volumes in a more energy-efficient and resource-efficient way without exorbitant violations of humans, animals, and the environment. In vitro meat technologies accomplish none of these goals yet, but unpalatable proofs of concept have already been made through a variety of methods. The earliest approach takes slices of muscle tissue from animals and cultures them in a nutrient medium. Another category of techniques is based on scaffolding: muscle stem cells, taken from animal biopsies, are dissociated, cultured, and placed on a biopolymer structure which patterns their growth into muscle tissue. These techniques are expected to produce ground meats, as opposed to structured meats like steaks (Hopkins & Dacey 582-583). The newest method applies the emerging technology of biofabrication to print meat. Organ printers have been used to spray live cells in layers to make three-dimensional meat structures

Ethan Li

(Forgacs). In any technique, cell cultures require sterile environments, large amounts of sterile water, and nutrient media, which generally requires expensive fetal serum taken from calves. Researchers have been developing mushroom and algal growth media to replace this serum. Once cells are grown, structured muscle tissue will require electricity-intensive stimulation for proper growth. Development of such methods of stimulation is an area of active research (Gross). Advocates expect that full control of tissue growth will allow for optimization of the texture, taste, and nutritional profile of meats. Researchers also hope that refinement of the in vitro meat production process will eliminate not only animal slaughter, but also any sort of animal suffering (Pluhar 464). This hope, which rests on promises of improvement to cultured meat technologies, forms the basis for many arguments promoting in vitro meat as an ethical food. Much ethical work discusses the role food plays in the existence of human and non-human entities, and this work can be applied to evaluate cultured meat as a food. Philosophical positions on cultured meat as a food hinge on certain implicit or explicit premises about what food is and should be. Philosopher David M. Kaplan identifies some of the many aspects of food: food as a source of nutrition and nourishment, food as normatively natural and involved in networks of ecological relationships, food as a product of and a contributor to culture, food as a marker of identity, food as a social good subject to social justice, food as an element of religious rituals, and food as an object of aesthetic experience (3-4, 18). Philosophical conceptions of food may feature a few of these aspects, or they may draw upon many. Some ethical frameworks, such as those promoting vegetarianism or veganism, concentrate on how meat is obtained from animal farming, while others discuss how food in general is produced and consumed. A variety of ethical arguments have been made for or against meat eating, and they fit into the three major ethical approaches: deontology, consequentialism, and virtue ethics. Deontological

Ethan Li

ethicists emphasize the rights of animals and the respect humans owe to those rights. Some rights theorists maintain that animals, like humans, should be treated as more than mere things because they have inherent value and interest in self-preservation. Others hold the vegan abolitionist position that treating animals as property is unjust, so that any use of animals is immoral regardless of how those animals are treated. Still others argue that rights depend on the ability to choose to act out of obligation instead of desire, so that animals do not have fundamental rights (Kaplan 11). Consequentialist ethicists, in contrast, reject this emphasis on rights. Some argue that neither humans nor animals have fundamental rights but rather, because both can experience pleasure and pain, both are morally significant and thus have interests that deserve equal consideration. This position is the basis for animal welfare arguments for ethical vegetarianism and veganism, as both focus on the obvious problems of animal suffering and cruelty. Other consequentialist evaluations may consider ecological, environmental, economic, cultural, and health consequences of producing and eating meat. Such evaluations may be used to oppose or to justify meat eating. (Kaplan 12-13). As with consequentialism, virtue ethics arguments may be used to defend or attack meat eating. Some arguments connect the suffering of animals to the character traits of humans, such as compassion, insensitivity, and consumerism. Kant, for example, holds that cruel treatment of animals diminishes us and makes us more ready to harm humans. Others defend meat eating by pointing to the cultural and religious traditions that involve animal consumption and the associated virtues of food preparation, ceremonial feasts, appreciation and respect for sustenance from nature, and even the process of stalking and hunting animals (Kaplan 12). Deontological, consequentialist, and virtue ethics arguments span the spectrum from individualism to holism in their approaches to the topic of meat eating.

Ethan Li

Agricultural ethicists deal with broader issues of food production processes, and their arguments also apply to moral questions about in vitro meat. Most of these issues are consequentialist, and many are related to industrial agriculture. Arguments against industrial agriculture may be based on concerns of sustainability, biological cycles, labor, and consumer health. Some ethicists defend industrial agriculture on the basis that sustainable practices are indefensible because they cannot supply enough food to the entire world. Agricultural ethicists may also disagree on whether non-human things have intrinsic value beyond extrinsic value as a means to anthropocentric ends. Biocentrists, who may agree with deontological or consequentialist positions against meat eating, extend intrinsic value to non-human living individuals but not to non-living things. In opposition to this individualism includes nonanthropocentrists, such as Aldo Leopold, who use holistic approaches that include natural environments. Some agrarian philosophers may use virtue ethics to argue against the social and environmental effects of industrial agriculture. They emphasize the preservation of culture and traditions, and they maintain that direct contact with the land is necessary for a proper sense of place and identity. To them, food choices are intimately tied to the treatment of land (Kaplan 12-13). Some criticize contemporary consumer individualism as fragmented, and they believe that industrialism prevents people from seeing the holistic system that gives meaning to relationships tying humans to each other and to nature. They promote agrarian practices to foster virtues of interdependence and community by encouraging broader involvement in food production processes (Fraser & Kaplan 227-228). Agricultural and environmental ethicists also span the scale from individualism to holism in their positions on industrial food production. Many of these ethical positions seem to endorse in vitro meat, and those positions are the visible ones in current ethical discourse on cultured meat. Consequentialist environmental analyses emphasize that in vitro meat will avoid the diversion of energy and nutrients into inedible animal

Ethan Li

parts treated as waste, along with the large greenhouse gas emissions of animal farms that use grainbased or soybean-based feed (Welin, Kaplan et al. 299). They estimate that, in comparison to factory farming, meat culturing based on algae-sourced nutrient media may use less water, far less energy, and a fraction of the land currently needed to grow animals and animal feed. This marginal land requirement allows for more environmentally responsible land use, including reforestation, and more socially just food use, including a larger supply of plant-based foods for human consumption and a larger supply of meat from a given area of land (Welin & Van der Weele 348). Another line of consequentialist thought praises the control humans will have over the nutritional profile of cultured meat, and on the processs necessary elimination of unhygienic conditions that lead to disease (Welin & Van der Weele 349). The most prominent consequentialist argument for cultured meat, however, is the animal welfare position as exemplified by PETA, which endorses the technology and provides monetary support to its development. Because in vitro meat wont cause the pain and suffering implicated in factory farming and animal slaughter, it seems to fulfill the core tenets of animal welfare (Dreissen & Korthals 802, 807). In vitro meat also seems to pass deontological tests. Animals from which cells are extracted can be treated with concern and be respected as ends in themselves, and the cell extraction process could be comparable to veterinary health checkups in appearance and in effect. Thus, people with non-abolitionist deontological ethics would have little reason to object to in vitro meat, as long as animals are not viewed as tissue farms in the process (Genovese, Pearce, & Casamitjana). Virtue ethics positions about the moral character of humans who abuse or instrumentalize food animals, then, would also seem to accept in vitro meat technologies. If cultured meat seems to meet so many ethical standards, then why are the objections to it so intense? Many objections emphasize different ethical focuses, such as the deontological thrust of vegan abolitionism: meat production, no matter how humane, continues the immoral exploitation of

Ethan Li

animal life as a resource by and for humans (Francione, Kaplan et al. 174-175). Although in vitro meat may promise not to harm animals, the act of taking animal cells as a product and using technology to fragment it for consumption can be classified as intrinsically violent, and the dissociation of life into new forms directly dependent on technology for survival can be seen as inherently exploitative (Catts & Zurr 108). From this perspective, what morally differentiates a biopsy for cell extraction from a veterinary health check-up is that the biopsy takes animal parts to grow a limitless supply of flesh. Even if individual animals are not directly exploited, animal-derived life forms are; the exploitation simply shifts to an abstract biotechnological construct to become less tangible to consumers. The abolitionist objection suggests that animal suffering is not the fundamental problem, and that this problem is an effect of the lack of respect for animals implicated in meat eating and visible in human attitudes towards the use of animals (Driessen & Korthals 812). These abolitionists also deploy consequentialist arguments unrelated to suffering, such as the environmental advantages of plantbased diets in terms of energy use and land use (Genovese, Pearce, & Casamitjana) the same benefits that in vitro meat brings over factory farming. From this view, in vitro meat is only an incremental improvement over other diets based on animal products. The abolitionist ethical framework criticizes in vitro meat advocacy as missing the actual point, that diets that depend on animals are immoral. Consequentialist concerns also exist about in vitro meat in ways that can be compatible and incompatible with abolitionist deontology. In addition to environmental objections to animal-based diets in the face of plant-based alternatives, skepticism exists about the safety of the meat, the motives of meat producers, and the purity of the product (Gross). For example, the ETC Group worries about the intensive processing, industrial mass production, and commercialization implicitly required to make in vitro meat successful (Specter). Ethical problems visible in the current food

Ethan Li

system, such as hunger and inequitable food distribution, human and animal labor violations, food quality and contamination, and pollution and disease, existed before factory farms and will remain even if cultured meat replaces factory farming (Metcalf 74). Problems with these farms are not a consequence of animal slaughter, but rather of an industry that prioritizes efficiency and profit over safety to consumers and laborers (Metcalf 81). We have the ability to avoid these problems in farming, as reflected in more sustainable and humane animal farming techniques, but companies dont have the motivation. Similarly, problems with food security exist not because of food scarcity, but because of the widening gap between rich and poor and the poverty preserved on behalf of neoliberal policies. These kinds of consequentialist concerns resonate with abolitionist objections about the focus of ethical evaluation and about the production of meat for food, but they focus more on commodification and human exploitation than on animal exploitation. Both kinds of concerns agree, however, that in vitro meat technology will not solve the underlying ethical problems reflected in factory farming today, because the technology is equipped with neither the relevant goals nor a deeper understanding of why such problems exist. Another set of objections, which emphasizes food in terms of holistic ecological and cultural relationships and not in terms of nutrition, social justice, or animal exploitation, is orthogonal to these consequentialist concerns. Some critics emphasize that cultured meat disrespects not the inherent dignity of animals, but the ecological relations that underlie food (Metcalf 83). These critics emphasize that we need to evaluate our foods by considering these relations and not just what we taste and digest (Specter). The appeal of in vitro meat is that, by taking us out of ecological relations, it will reduce our harm to the environment and our exploitation of animals (Catts & Zurr 106), though abolitionists contend that this exploitation can and should be eliminated entirely. Neither perspective features the idea that we also need to nurture and sustain the ecological connections among

Ethan Li

humans, nonhumans, and lands because these connections constitute food (Metcalf 84). This ecological and agrarian holism, however, resonates with abolitionism in its recognition of the goal of in vitro meat to increase the separation between consumer and animal. For the former framework, this separation distracts from the primacy of ecological relationships in food production, while for the latter framework, this separation distracts from the primacy of exploitation in animal products. However, the two frameworks reach different prescriptions for proper food production, because holism understands animal suffering as an effect of the problems in our relationships to food and land and not as an underlying issue in itself (Metcalf 76). Abolitionism demands an end to animal farming in favor of plant agriculture, while agrarian holism demands an end to industrial farming in favor of sustainable agriculture involving animals to maintain ecological interdependence and agrarian virtues. Just as many consequentialist arguments contend that in vitro meat misses the larger social problems of the global economy, these holist arguments emphasize that in vitro meat misses the larger ecological problems of global food production. This emphasis on food as more than what we put in our mouths and on food production as more than just the act of growing plants and animals depends on a holistic view of food as more than just nutrition and taste. Such a view would also include aspects not only of social justice and ecology, but also of culture and identity (Pollan 10). Attitudes recognizing only nutrition and taste are reflected in rhetoric that identifies cultured meat as real because of its constituent substance and not its method of production (Hopkins & Dacey 586), in demonstrations that seek to convince audiences of the edibility of meat (Forgacs), and in the emphasis researchers place on producing more nutritious and better-textured in vitro meat (Specter). However, these attitudes miss both the ecologicallyderived meaning recognized by agrarian holists and the culturally-derived meaning involved in the processes that prepare food. The latter gap has been used as justification by people involved in

Ethan Li

culinary traditions to criticize in vitro meat as inauthentic or soulless (Driessen & Korthals 808). Holistic views of food incorporate various cultural virtues involved in eating slaughtered animals, and they reject the reduction of food to nutrients. With this rejection, they also dismiss conceptions of meats as merely ways to introduce various substances into the body (Pollan 2). In vitro meat is viewed as ontologically distinct from conventional meats precisely because food is more than a set of optimizable nutrients. Not only does cultured meat decontextualize meat from its animal origins and food from its ecological origins, but its development relies on the decontextualization of processed food components, such as meat cells, from the food itself. Advocates of whole foods, like those of holistic farming, point to our dependence on the ecological networks implicated in food. While the latter discuss the environmental effects of this relationship, the former apply this idea to argue that our personal health and diet also depend on the shared ecological histories of humans and whole foods (Pollan 7). Contrary to consequentialist nutritional justifications for cultured meat, we cant be sure about the benefits of such simplified, highly-processed meat on human health in comparison to complex conventional meats. Food holism, in combination with ecological holism, offers a way to articulate disgust about cultured meat by discussing what gives meaning to food. The extensive variety of ethical arguments both for and against in vitro meat, along with the intensity of convictions regarding animal suffering as evil or in vitro meat as disgusting, indicates that in vitro meat, like everything else involved in food production and consumption, is an ethically complex issue. Holistic approaches sound good in theory, but it is not obvious whether their prescriptions for sustainable farming and whole foods are realistically and economically attainable in the current global economy. Similarly, given the lack of significant progress by advocates of veganism in acquiring adherents, the status quo of widespread animal product consumption appears to be entrenched. Worse, there is no clear resolution to the tension between vegan abolitionist positions

10

Ethan Li

that wish to eliminate animals from human food production and ecologically holist positions that require animals in human food production. This tension reflects intractable differences in fundamental values and ethical approaches. At the very least, both positions agree in rejecting in vitro meat as a savior technology, and both are compatible with consequentialist skepticism about the ability of the technology to solve the social and economic problems that underlie the violations committed by factory farming. The situation is complicated by the disagreement between both positions with consequentialist theories of animal suffering. Such theories seek a way to end the suffering of animals in factory farms as quickly as possible, and cultured meat represents a viable way to do so. It would be reasonable to say that the basic arguments of all these things matter, given that we would prefer to eat contextually meaningful and authentic foods made without cruelty or exploitation of humans or nonhumans. The crux of the issue, then, lies with how our ethical values for an ideal future should be prioritized. This question cannot be answered in a way that will fulfill all conflicting priorities, and no single set of priorities in isolation will give us an ideal world. While it is debatable whether increasing the food supply will appreciably increase economic access to healthy foods, it seems obvious that decreasing the food supply, which would be necessary in a world supported by sustainable farms, would reduce the number of people with such access. A holistic agrarian and culinary commitment to providing quality foods from quality ecological relations implies an environmental commitment to curbing human activity and population, along with a social justice commitment to providing equitable access to such food; these commitments require us to dismantle the neoliberal systems that encourage economic inequality, eternal population growth, and environmental exploitation. Social problems cannot be solved by technology alone, and the intertwined nature of social problems, economic problems, and environmental problems means that no issue can be solved by technology

11

Ethan Li

alone. At the same time, such a holistic approach can include qualified versions of abolitionist principles. By restoring mutuality to the food relations between humans and nature, we gain an opportunity to end the exploitation of animals: abolition is a way to end exploitative dealings, but so is replacing them with mutually supportive relations. Even if the consequentialist, virtue ethics, and deontological motivations of holism and abolitionism are not entirely incompatible, these goals of sustainability and restoration are large-scale, long-term goals. What should we do right now? Whatever we do, its clear that in vitro meat technology cannot engineer out the deeper ethical problems our society has with food and with how we interact with the world around us. Whatever future advocates promise for in vitro meat will require sacrifices of values and will perpetuate underlying problems. Even if in vitro technology will provide the utopia promised of it, it at least has the potential to achieve incremental change by abolishing factory farms and ending the blatant cruelty towards animals. The question becomes one of what ethical costs we are willing to accept for whatever course of action we take, and of how we will prioritize long-term, large-scale reform against short-term steps that risk creating the illusion of triumph and completion. This question is the same one that challenges any movement to effect change, and no definitive conclusion has ever been reached. In this way, the ethical conflict surrounding in vitro meat is a microcosm of the conflicts around social reform in general, and the dynamic tensions and resonances among the many ethical evaluations of cultured meat encourage perpetual critical exploration of what place humans have in the universe.

12

Ethan Li

Works Cited Catts, Oron, and Ionat Zurr. "Disembodied Livestock: The Promise of a Semi-Living Utopia." Parallax 19.1 (2013): 101-13. Taylor & Francis Online. Informa UK, 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 May 2013. Driessen, Clemens, and Michiel Korthals. "Pig Towers and in Vitro Meat: Disclosing Moral Worlds by Design." Social Studies of Science 42.6 (2012): 797-820. Sage Journals. SAGE Publications, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. Forgacs, Gabor. "Are You Ready for Tissues You Can "Print on Demand"?" Lecture. TEDMED 2011. Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego. 13 May 2013. TEDMED. TED Conferences. Web. 13 May 2013. Genovese, Nicholas, David Pearce, and Jordi Casamitjana. "Lab Meat: Can in Vitro Meat save the Animals?" Interview by Ian MacDonald. Audio blog post. The Vegan Option: Internet Radio. Blubrry, 3 Apr. 2012. Web. 12 May 2013. Gross, Terry, prod. "Burgers From A Lab: The World Of In Vitro Meat." Fresh Air. WHYY, 17 May 2011. Fresh Air. National Public Radio, 17 May 2011. Web. 12 May 2013. Hopkins, Patrick D., and Austin Dacey. "Vegetarian Meat: Could Technology Save Animals and Satisfy Meat Eaters?" Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21.6 (2008): 579-96. SpringerLink. Springer Science+Business Media. Web. 29 Apr. 2013. Kaplan, David M., Gary L. Francione, David Fraser, Paul B. Thompson, Stellan Welin, Julie Gold, Johanna Berlin, and Richard P. Haynes. The Philosophy of Food. Ed. David M. Kaplan. Berkeley: University of California, 2012. Print. Metcalf, Jacob. "Meet Shmeat: Food System Ethics, Biotechnology and Re-Worlding Technoscience." Parallax 19.1 (2013): 74-87. Taylor & Francis Online. Informa. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

13

Ethan Li

Pluhar, Evelyn B. "Meat and Morality: Alternatives to Factory Farming." Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 23.5 (2010): 455-68. SpringerLink. Springer, 18 Dec. 2009. Web. 1 May 2013. Pollan, Michael. "Unhappy Meals." Editorial. The New York Times Magazine 28 Jan. 2007: 112. The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 28 Jan. 2007. Web. 7 June 2013. Specter, Michael. "Test-Tube Burgers." New Yorker 87.14 (2011): 32-38. Academic Search Premier. Web. 1 May 2013. Welin, S., and C. Van der Weele. "Cultured Meat: Will It Separate Us from Nature?" Climate Change and Sustainable Development: Ethical Perspectives on Land Use and Food Production. By S. Welin. Wageningen, the Netherlands: Wageningen Academic, 2012. 348-51. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.

14