Lab-grown meat’s (LGM) main draw is that it bypasses the need for animal slaughter for meat production. Critics argue that it reinforces speciesism. LGM only requires an initial stem cell sample found within muscular tissue retrieved from livestock. The stem cells are then grown in culture to form muscle fibres, which can be cooked to deliver an equivalent meat product.
Friends not food
The various pharmaceutical cocktails fed to agricultural livestock for disease prevention and rapid mass gain is contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria known as ‘superbugs’. A worst-case consequentialist approach supports that humans should take action before ‘superbugs’ constitute a global health crisis becoming more difficult to kill with the rate of bacterial immunity outpacing new pharmaceutical cures. Consequentialism supports switching to antibiotic free LGM to prevent the ‘superbug’ scenario materialising. Notwithstanding ethical egoist arguments in favour of LGM as a cleaner meat product free from chemical injections and artificial hormones compared to conventional meat.
Tackling rising resource scarcity is a major challenge facing this generation especially as the population is predicted to rise to 10 billion by 2050. Deontological ethics supports that it is our moral obligation to switch to LGM which requires less than 5% land (figure 1). Some deontologists regard natural resources as sacred, therefore supporting the switch to the most sustainable method of meat production. Former agricultural land freed by LGM could then be used for wildlife preservation or to tackle impoverishment, which is seen as the moral choice when viewed through a land ethics framework. Similarly, strict egalitarianism supports switching to LGM as it ensures that the next generation are allocated similar resources.
Approximately 150 million animals killed every day to provide food, many have lived their lives in squalid conditions such as battery pens. This prioritises efficiency over animal welfare. Meat-eaters cannot deny the path of animal suffering, which belies the current industry. Virtue ethicists argue that for a diet that is considered non-essential such as meat, the subsequent animal suffering is therefore unnecessary and opposite to human compassion. Thus, virtues should be extended to all species and not just humans as part of moral extensionism. Switching to LGM prevents the need to kill animals, which reduces the amount of animal suffering required to produce meat. From an act utilitarian standpoint, the amount of happiness is increased as non-human animal (NHA) suffering is avoided with LGM.
The scientific consensus approach agrees that global warming is a crisis affecting all life on earth. Early feasibility studies predict that LGM has the potential to reduce current agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 95% (figure 1). The sustainability framework suggests that we have a ‘chain of obligation’ as actions taken by the current generation will affect the welfare of future generations. The pragmatic attitude accepts the use of LGM as a promising environmental technology for its potential ability to reduce GHGs and combat climate change.
Is it a big mis-steak?
LGM is acknowledged as having the potential to reduce GHG emissions and resource usage compared to conventional farming. The key word is POTENTIAL! Some early feasibility studies contrarily claim that LGM may actually have the opposite environmental effect than intended. From figure 1, the CO2 emitted from LGM has a longer atmospheric lifespan than CH4 emitted from current agriculture. Scientific models have predicted that in the short term LGM is environmentally better than conventional farming. Over time, LGM may result in a higher warming effect as CO2 accumulates compared to the short lifespan of agricultural GHG emissions (CH4).
Taking heed of the precautionary principle, perhaps we should not implement a technology that has substantial uncertainty over its environmental credentials. Furthermore, society’s hedonistic desire for choice and autonomy could result in LGM merely sitting beside conventional farmed meat. Therefore, adding to the problem of extra GHG rather than displacing the previous technology. A consequentialist approach in tandem with the precautionary principle suggests avoiding LGM as it may emit more GHG, therefore exacerbating climate change. Pragmatic ethics suggest that it is better to shift to a vegetarian diet which has the lowest carbon footprint out of all dietary lifestyles compared to transitioning to another higher GHG emitting meat based option. In addition, rule utilitarianism suggests to benefit the most amount of people but is also concerned with fairness hence valuing justice to farmers in regards to potential job losses and bringing benefits at the same time.
Throughout history, core principles of religious frameworks such as Ahimsa in Hinduism have stressed the importance of man’s respect for nature. The ‘unnatural’ harvesting of lower status organisms for hedonistic desire is seen to deprive these animals of their dignity, fundamentally changing our relationship with them. LGM disregards care ethics as harvesting and consuming NHA meat is incompatible with our moral duty to care for sentient beings.
The logical conclusion to disprove hierarchal speciesism is for us to grow human meat alongside animal meat. Ethically, victimless cannibalism sidesteps consequentialist arguments as the perceived outcome is positive in that it does not require murder. Furthermore, deontological concerns regarding duty of respect for the corpse and the deceased families are bypassed as there is no corpse desecration. So why should we not grow human meat?
Nice to meat you
Society’s moral repugnance to cannibalism, even if victimless, can be justified through virtue ethics. Surely honourable virtuous people do not recreationally eat meat of their own kin?
This results in an ethical conundrum as the usage of solely animal LGM is unjustified through animal ethics. Attempts to remove speciesism and align animal ethics with LGM come into conflict with virtue ethics surrounding human sanctity and moral character.
Don’t go bacon my heart
Applying sustainability ethics and a climate reductionist approach, which built on prior ethical reasoning, we believe implementing LGM is the right thing to do.