the Disillusioned kid: When Meat Isn't Murder
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Saturday, August 13, 2005

When Meat Isn't Murder

Nella links to this article in today's Guardian which suggests that it may soon be possible to produce meat without the need to kill animals:
Scientists have adapted the cutting-edge medical technique of tissue engineering, where individual cells are multiplied into whole tissues, and applied them to food production. "With a single cell, you could theoretically produce the world's annual meat supply," said Jason Matheny, an agricultural scientist at the University of Maryland.
The report notes that this would be more environmentally friendly than farm-reared meat and could be tailored to be healthier by increasing its nutrient content and screening for diseases. Experiments for NASA have apparently already yielded morsels of edible fish, although no one has as yet eaten any of it.

Scientists working on the idea envisage cells growing in huge sheets which could then be turned into processed meat products like chicken nuggets. Steak produced in this way is still some way of, however:
"Scientists believe that while tissue engineering is advanced enough to grow bland, homogeneous meat, tasty and textured cuts will have to wait."

"Right now, it would be possible to produce something like spam at an incredibly high cost, but the know-how to grow something that has structure, such as a steak, is a long way off," said Mr Matheny.
The question then arises whether anybody would eat the stuff. Nella notes, that "since the fact that an animal cell is used at the start of the process makes it not vegan." Whether vegetarians will do so depends on why they gave up meat. Kerry Bennett, of the Vegetarian Society, notes, "It won't appeal to someone who gave up meat because they think it's morally wrong to eat flesh or someone who doesn't want to eat anything unnatural." Which then brings us onto meat-eaters. Is this new development likely to convince them to give up old-fashioned farm-reared meat?

Those who eat meat because they think it's a neccessary part of their diet in terms of health might be convinced, particularly if its nutritional content can be shown to be higher. Those who don't want to limit their diet are less likely to be converted, particularly if the only thing on offer is animal-free "chicken nuggets". Nella is probably right to point out that many meat eaters will also be put off because the new process grosses them out. This is strange because it hardly seems anywhere near as gross as the slaughter, dismemberment and perhaps even reconstitution of an animal neccesary to produce meat in the current manner (and that's before we've even started talking about what goes into chicken nuggets), but this won't detract from the strength with which such convictions will be held.

Long story short: I'm far from sure that it'll catch on. Like Nella I'm dubious about whether it will actually be used for the benefit of those in the third-world as some advocates suggest. Not because it doesn't have the potential to be used in this manner, but because the global economic system operates in such a way as to make it unlikely. I'm not even sure if I'd eat it although I think we should look very carefully into something which offers such potential for reducing the suffering of animals.

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