Yesterday morning there was a segment on NPR about “vat grown meat” and a few days earlier it was discussed on VeganFreak Podcast. Of course a vegan wouldn’t eat it, but why not?
Let’s review the three main reasons for being vegan: for the animals, for the environment and for your health.
The health argument seems obvious: whether the cells are grown in an animal or in a test tube, they are still animal cells, with all the well known health risks that go along with that. Of course, by carefully engineering the cells, it may be possible to reduce these harmful components, though it is unlikely that a profit-driven enterprise will do this. Furthermore, a number of chemicals will undoubtedly be involved in the production, and at least some of those will be in the end product.
The environmental issues are less clear. Reducing the number of factory farmed animals would certainly be good thing for the environment. But there are many unanswered questions about the production process, but they are the same questions asked of any industrial process: What sort of chemical inputs will be required? Where will they come from? How much energy will required? What sorts of chemical wastes will be generated? The process may be slightly better for the environment than animal agriculture, but it will always be far better to simply to eat plants.
What about the animals? Reducing the number of farmed animals would certainly reduce suffering. But the original animal cells have to come from somewhere, and even if these cells can be gathered painlessly, there would still be animals in captivity. But in the end, whether the meat comes from an animal or a vat, it still reinforces the idea that animals are simply property, a disposable resource, and not living, breathing members of our moral community.
Let’s think of the ethical issue in another way: What if a company was able to culture human cells to produce human “meat”. Would you eat that?
So wherever meat comes from, it is still harmful to our health, the environment and our ethics. And the sole reason we would do this is because we like the taste. That is the only reason. And that is never enough of a reason.