Friday, March 18, 2016

Lab meat - how ethical is it?

In the past year or so, I've come across several articles about an incredible new discovery - the ability to cultivate meat in a laboratory. Instead of killing an animal to get meat, this new process "grows" the meat in a laboratory, so no killing is involved. Many have applauded this new breakthrough, and many of the same people have claimed that we have finally developed an ethical way of providing/eating meat. You no longer have to go vegetarian or vegan, people, you can now eat meat guilt-free. But is this really true?

First of all, there is something sinister about cloning. Whether it's a fruit, a live sheep (remember that one?), or a slab of meat, creating living things (or parts thereof) in the lab is generally disquieting. But let's say, for argument's sake, that we attribute this reaction to paranoia. Let's ignore the fact that this might be very hard to sustain (much harder than growing natural plant-based alternatives to meat). Let's ignore the fact that this is simply genetic modification (which itself is rightfully getting a lot of slack) taken to scary new levels. This still leaves us with my second (and more important) point: The fact that meat is created in a lab doesn't make it completely ethical. Sure, no killing is involved, but you are still eating the flesh of an animal, even though the animal never existed. Let me put it this way: would you eat the flesh of a dog if it were cultivated in the same way? Or a cat? A person like myself would never go back to eating meat for this exact reason. Why would I want to remind myself of the dead flesh of an animal, when I have so many natural plant-based products I can eat? Let's not forget the fact that this meat isn't created from scratch. The culture used to make it comes from the necks of living cows, and is then covered with the blood of dead calves... Yum. In my opinion, this simply reinforces bad habits, especially one of our worst habits - our addiction to meat. It reinforces (albeit semi-subversively) the idea that eating meat is OK or even necessary. This is contrary to what many people like myself believe - that transitioning to a plant-based diet represents progress for the individual and for the world in general. It'll be hard to progress if you still crave the flesh of animals. If you really want to change yourself and the world around you, focus instead on transitioning to a diet that is truly cruelty-free - a plant-based one.

So, no, I won't be trying the lab meat. Having said that, I do see some value in developing it. I believe that this could be effective as part of a greater strategy to get to all those hopeless cases that claim that they'll never even try a veggie burger as long as they live. While you can't force "ethical Neanderthals" to eat plant-based food, you can ban the killing of animals and then ONLY provide lab meat (at very high prices) to them. Sure, they'll complain a whole lot, but at least they'll have their "meat", and no animals will be killed in the process. This is something I would get behind.

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