The Ethics and Economics of In-Vitro Meat

Written by Jaya Bhumitra

In-Vitro MeatWhat if someone told you that you could eat meat without harming animals? We don’t mean plant-based meats, though developments there are exciting, too. We mean meat from animals—but it’s grown in a laboratory and without the need to raise and slaughter conscious animals. Sounds like weird science?

It may be, but in-vitro meat is also one of the most interesting approaches to addressing the animal welfare, environmental, and public health issues associated with industrial animal agriculture.

While still in the research stage, many believe that in-vitro meat could become the most efficient and humane method for satisfying the world’s meat cravings. In theory, one cell could produce enough meat to feed the global population for a year. Once multiplied, the cells are infused with nutrients and manipulated to increase protein or decrease fat content. The result is boneless sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets.

Is this ethical? Is it economical? Jason Matheny, founder of New Harvest, the organization on the frontier of this technology, revealed some fascinating insights in a recent interview by the Worldwatch Institute. Below are some excerpts:

Why is it important to have meat substitutes? Is the goal to wean omnivores off meat? Or give them more sustainable ways of reducing meat consumption?

Both. Meat was nutritionally important in our evolutionary past, so it’s likely we have a strong taste for it. And the global trend is a massive increase in meat consumption–mostly in developing countries.

What about those who fear in-vitro as they fear genetically modified foods?

It’s not natural to put 10,000 chickens in a metal shed and pump them full of growth-promoting drugs. But that’s how [it’s done] now. Even if they were free-range, there’s nothing natural about the broiler chicken–an animal artificially bred to have twice the natural size and growth rate of jungle fowl, with severe health problems as a result. I prefer that we develop unnatural foods that are healthier, safer, cleaner, and more humane than the unnatural foods we find in animal agriculture.

Would in-vitro meat reduce the use of natural resources and generate less pollution?

Research at Oxford University estimated that mass production of cultured meat would reduce water and land use and CO2 emissions by 90% or more.

Read the full interview. You can also learn more about the many delicious meat alternatives currently on the market.