This piece from NPR has generated some interest in the topic of in-vitro meat–that is, meat grown in a lab from a cell culture. Apparently there is a real possibility that sometime in the next decade or so we could see lab-grown meat on our supermarket shelves. On its face, this seems like a win-win for animals and for the environment given the well canvassed evils of industrial meat farming. That is, assuming the resulting product is safe for human consumption.
Undoubtedly the idea of eating meat grown in a petri dish will not sit well with a lot of people, at least initially. Similar to concerns about genetically modified crops, they may consider lab-grown meat “unnatural.” But in the case of GMOs there are legitimate concerns about cross-pollination or other forms of environmental harm that wouldn’t seem to apply here. This likely wouldn’t satisfy everyone, but the way most meat is currently produced isn’t exactly natural either, unless you consider being pumped full of hormones and antibiotics meat’s natural state. Maybe in the in-vitro future, “real” meat will become a niche or luxury item affordable only by the very rich. Or maybe eating real meat will come to be seen as grotesquely immoral given the widespread availability of ethically sound alternatives!
From a vegetarian/animal liberation perspective I can imagine that in vitro meat might seem like admitting defeat or a concession to “carnivore culture” (or “carnism” as some people refer to it): instead of convincing people to give up eating animals through moral persuasion, we’re enabling their flesh-eating ways. But assuming the rationale for animal liberation is reducing or ending the suffering and exploitation of animals, rather than just an objection to meat-eating per se (and what would the rationale for that be?), it’s hard to see this as much more than an emotional response.
I could be persuaded otherwise, and I likely wouldn’t eat “vat-meat” myself, but I have a hard time seeing anything wrong with this apart from the initial “ick” factor.
–Johann Hari makes the case against the British monarchy.
–How progressive are taxes in the U.S.?
–Ten teachings on Judaism and the environment.
–Marilyn of Left At the Altar reviews Laura Hobgood-Oster’s The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.
–A very interesting New Yorker article on the love-hate relationship between fantasy author George R.R. Martin and some of his fans.
–The fantasy of survivalism.
–Intellectual disability and theological anthropology.
–Do we need “Passion/Palm Sunday?” Seems like this comes up every year, and I’m not sure there’s a good solution.
–Mark Bittman on the cost of “lifestyle” diseases.
ADDED LATER: On Dutch efforts to ban traditional Jewish and Islamic practices of animal slaughter.
ONE MORE: It sounds like the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is every bit as bad as you’d expect.
The NewYork Times gives some coverage today of the ongoing efforts in Iowa, Florida, and now Minnesota to make it impossible for activists to reveal animal abuse in factory farms to the public. I continue to be kind of shocked by how brazen the industry’s attempts to shield itself from public scrutiny are. And that legislators are all too happy to go along with it. This about sums it up:
The legislation has been strongly backed by Republicans but has also won some Democrats. John P. Kibbie, Democrat of Emmetsburg [Iowa] and president of the State Senate, who has been working on an amended bill expected to be released this week, said he supported the legislation to “make producers feel more comfortable.”
Well, we certainly wouldn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.
This article from Time provides one of the best overviews I’ve seen in a mainstream publication about the issues surrounding factory farms and the use of animals for food. It notes that there’s debate among “humane” meat proponents, vegetarians, and vegans about whether it’s okay to use animals for food at all, but also highlights that most of these folks are united in opposing intensive industrial farming practices. It even gives a lot of space to Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Bauer’s case for veganism. The piece concludes on an ecumenical note, lauding the food movement for “encourag[ing] people to think about their relationship to the food on their plate, about the environmental, social, political, moral and, yes, even culinary factors affected by their choices.”
Here’s an excellent post from Mark Bittman discussing an issue that I’m guessing is not widely understood. I think a lot of people probably think that there are fairly stringent rules about how farm animals can be treated; but as Bittman notes, clauses in virtually all anti-cruelty laws have what are called “common farming exceptions,” which means, essentially, that anything you do to an animal is okay as long as its a common or standard practice in the industry.
[I]n New York (and there are similar laws in other states) if you kick a dog or cat or hamster or, I suppose, a guppy, enough to “cause extreme physical pain” or do so “in an especially depraved or sadistic manner” you may be guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals, as long as you do this “with no justifiable purpose.”
But thanks to Common Farming Exemptions, as long as I “raise” animals for food and it’s done by my fellow “farmers” (in this case, manufacturers might be a better word), I can put around 200 million male chicks a year through grinders (graphic video here), castrate — mostly without anesthetic — 65 million calves and piglets a year, breed sick animals (don’t forget: more than half a billion eggs were recalled last summer, from just two Iowa farms) who in turn breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, allow those sick animals to die without individual veterinary care, imprison animals in cages so small they cannot turn around, skin live animals, or kill animals en masse to stem disease outbreaks.
All of this is legal, because we will eat them.
I encourage you to click through and read the rest (Bittman’s post has lots of links too, which I haven’t reproduced here).
The key point here is that there’s no rational basis for the disparities in the way we treat “food” animals and pets. (Which isn’t to say that pets are necessarily treated well; there are lots of problems with how we as a society deal with cats, dogs, and other companion animals too.) Cows, pigs, and even chickens have intellectual and emotional lives that are comparable to, or even more complex than, those of animals we keep as pets. And yet, compare the outrage at, say, Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring with the indifference we largely feel about the treatment of animals we raise for food.
Note that there’s no claim being made here about moral parity between animals and humans. The question isn’t whether a pig should be treated like a person, but whether a pig (or a cow or a chicken) deserves the same protection from protracted, intense suffering (calling it torture isn’t really even a stretch) that you’d want extended to your family dog.