How One Vegan Views In-Vitro Meat by Rina Deych
In 1999, when I first learned of the concept of in-vitro meat from a friend and fellow vegetarian, my initial reaction was revulsion. As a registered nurse/health advocate and vegetarian for many years, I could not imagine myself promoting a product I associated with pain, disease, and pollution. In my frustration at the slow progress of the materialization of my pipe dream to turn the entire world vegetarian, I decided to learn more about it.The process involves painlessly taking a few cells from a live animal and putting them in a nutritious medium in which they will divide. The concept was initially introduced by Dutch physician Willem van Eelen. Using this technology, a pure product minus hormones, steroids, antibiotics, and pesticide residues would be created. In addition, since it would be produced in a completely controlled environment, it would be free of Mad Cow, Avian Flu, Salmonella, E-Coli, the newly revived Swine Flu, and other flesh-borne diseases. Theoretically, a few cells can feed an entire nation.
A 12/11/05 NY Times article by Raizel Robin stated: "...if in vitro meat becomes viable, the environmental and ethical consequences could be profound. The thought of beef grown in the lab may turn your stomach, but in vitro meat would avoid many of the downsides of factory farming, most notably pollution: in the United States, livestock produce 1.4 billion tons of waste each year. What's more, once a meat-cell culture exists, it could function the way a yeast or yogurt culture does, so that meat growers wouldn't need to use a new animal for each set of starter cells -- and the meat industry would no longer be dependent on slaughtering animals."
In November, CBS aired a short piece on Dr. Vladimir Mironov, tissue engineer working on this technology at the Medical University of South Carolina. It highlighted the fact that due to lack of funding, progress is slow. Dr. Mironov and co-author Jason Matheny (a doctoral student and a vegetarian) along with other members of the research team run a website called New Harvest, which is a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat. More information about their work can be found at: http://www.new-harvest.org/resources.htm.
Much of the general public is still not aware (or willfully ignorant) of the suffering of billions of farm animals per year. Nor are they aware that 70% of this country's antibiotics are pumped into the livestock industry. They may have read about steroids, hormones, and pesticide residues in factory-farmed meat, but, somehow, manage to ignore it when ordering their cheeseburgers and steaks. Promoting this technology would give us the opportunity to highlight the horrors (ethical, health, and environmental) of agribusiness, and bring these issues to the forefront.
Interestingly, though the reaction is mixed in the vegetarian/vegan community, some people who have given it the thumbs up are:Peter Singer (philosopher, Princeton professor, and author of Animal Liberation, the Bible of the Animal Rights movement), Patrice Greanville (of Animals Agenda and Animal People), Alix Fano (friend, author of Lethal Laws, and executive director of the Campaign for Responsible Transplantation), Richard Schwartz (author of Judaism and Vegetarianism and president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America), and Valerie Traina (friend, fellow-activist and Director of Development, Great Plains Restoration Council). Erik Marcus, author of Meat Market and Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating (available free online at: http://shannonburns.net/vegan.pdf) published an article entitled "Franken Meat" in the Jan/Feb 2006 issue of VegNews (available only on hard copy), which, despite it's deceptive title, is remarkably supportive of the technology.
In April of 2008, PETA publicly announced that it will offer one million dollars to the first person who can come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in-vitro meat by 2012.
In summary, this technology could potentially have a profound impact on tens of billions of animals' lives annually, and produce a healthier (or less unhealthy, depending on how you look at it) product for human consumption. The insult to the environment would be minimal compared with that caused by the huge amounts of waste and pollution generated by agribusiness. There is even a buzz in the meat industry about how, after an initial investment, this technology could rapidly become cost-effective, with no maintenance of live animals (including feed and veterinary care), no medications, and no waste management problems.An added plus to the development of in-vitro meat would be the ability to feed our rescued companion animals a cruelty-free diet! While I recognize that cats are natural carnivores, I feel extremely conflicted about feeding them other animals. I do it because, from what I have read, cats develop all kinds of health issues when fed vegan diets (even with Taurine supplementation). It would be great to be able to feed them real meat that is cruelty-free!
After six years of consideration, I realized that it's not about (the turning of) my stomach that's important. It's about the potential to spare the suffering of tens of billions of animals per year and, at the same time, improve human health, and reduce insult to the environment.
Supporting this technology does not mean that we must cease to promote veganism as the desired ideal, the ultimate goal. We can, however, consider it an interim compromise, and, hopefully, a stepping stone to veganism.Naturally, I wish the whole world would become vegan overnight. Since this is not likely to happen (now or in the near future), I find myself more sure that our support of this technology is essential.
Rina Deych is a registered nurse and vegan who lives in NYC. She has been active in the animal rights community for many years.Her web site is: http://www.rrrina.com/ 2005, updated Oct.2009
1/19/09 News Articles:
The New White Meat: Raising Chicken Nuggets in a Petri Dish (New York Magazine)
Pros for Petri Dish Meat That Are Not Just Ethical (The Huffington Post)
The Low-Carbon Diet (Audubon Magazine)
The Top Seven High-Concept Concepts in Greentech
The Year That Was on Serious Eats: Science
In Vitro Meat X-Prize (Stanford Center for Internet and Society)
3/1/09 News Articles:
Eating less meat could cut climate costs (New Scientist)
The Future of Food: The No-kill Carnivore (Wired / Portfolio.com)
How Meat Contributes to Global Warming (Scientific American)
Meeting the demand: An estimation of potential future greenhouse gas emissions from meat production (Ecological Economics)
4/18/09 News Articles:
Sausage without the Squeal: Growing Meat inside a Test Tube (Scientific
Nine-and-a-Half Technologies that could change the world (CBC)
For more news stories, please visit http://new-harvest.org/resources.htm
6/17/09 News Articles:
Future scenarios for the UK food system (Food Ethics Council)
In vitro meat - Would you eat hamburger from the lab? (The Age)
Meat: the slavery of our time (Foreign Policy)
In defense of meat (Foreign Policy)
8/10/09 News Articles:
In-vitro meat: Would lab-burgers be better for us and the planet? (CNN)
Who is greener? (CNN)
9/7/09 News Articles:
Why in vitro meat is good for you (SEED Magazine)
From petri dish to dinner plate (New Scientist)
11/22/09 News Articles:
Fight climate change with soy burgers, 'in vitro meat' (Greenbang)
Growing plants indoors no longer rooted in sci-fi (Globe and Mail)
Cooker that 'grows' meat in your kitchen (Daily Mail)
Half of the fish consumed globally is now raised on farms, study finds (EurekAlert)
New Harvest RSS feeds:
6/9/2010 News Articles:
Fiala N. The Value of Cultured Meat: An Estimate of the Externality Costs of Meat Consumption, 2010. http://www.new-harvest.org/img/files/fiala_2010.pdf
Creating Chicken Without the Egg (TIME)
Potential for artificial meat to provide for growing population (BBC)
Meat from the lab (The Times)
Synthetic meat could save the world (Cambridge News)